Have you ever wondered why European patent applications sometimes include a “dot” in their number and what is the significance of the number after the dot?

Well, we have. Some of our colleagues from non-EU offices have asked us about the meaning and significance of the dot (decimal point) and the digit after it, in European patent applications. Following various responses from our colleagues such as “You know, I am not sure,” or “I have always been curious, but not curious enough,” we decided to find out. For those seeking an article that dives into the critical scholarship of intellectual property laws, this may not be the one for you.

The first applications for the European patent were filed at the European Patent Office (“EPO”) on 1 June 1978. The history of numbering dates back to this date. Although the format may seem rather arbitrary, every digit and “dot” has a particular significance.

  • Firstly, the initial digits of the patent application number do not refer to the code for the particular type of IP right as you may find in other national patent application numbers in Europe. Instead, the first and second digits (from left to right) indicate the filling year (according to the Gregorian calendar).
  • The following two digits, on the third and fourth position, indicate the place of filling (00 to 09 for direct filling in the EPO in Munich, The Hague or Berlin; 10 to 24 for online filling; 25 to 49 for the EPC Member States filling). From 1 January 2002, any of the numbers 7, 8, 9 used at the third position refers to the international patent applications under the PCT (PCT applications in the regional phase).
  • The later digits, in position 5 to 8, refer to the serial number of the application that is given out by the office that is receiving a particular patent application.
  • Finally, the last digit, in position 9, which is separated from the previous 8 digits by the aforementioned “dot,” is an error check digit used in the process. The purpose of this may be to serve as a double error check for the EPO to see if an application had been filled correctly.

That is it. Needless to say, the most significant part of the numbers used in the European patent applications are the first 8 digits.

Although the “dot” in the EPO application may not be as important as one could have thought, there are over 30 different styles and procedures for the numbering of applications and priority applications worldwide.[1] For the purpose of this patent filing procedure, we hope that you will find this article “curious enough” as well as informative.

[1] See WIPO: Handbook on Industrial Property Information and Documentation, available online from: https://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/standards/en/pdf/07-02-06.pdf