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Signatures in Assignments

The President of the EPO has issued a decision (OJ EPO 2024, A17) which relaxes the requirements regarding signatures on contracts and declarations related to transfers of rights and licences when registering these at the EPO. As a result of the decision, electronic or “text string” signatures will be permitted from 1 April 2024. There will also no longer be any need to provide evidence that a signatory is entitled to sign on behalf of the relevant legal person (such as the signatory’s employer). Furthermore, no administrative fee will be due for the registration of transfers of rights and licences when they are filed via ‘MyEPO Portfolio’.

These are welcome changes that can only benefit applicants in terms of time and cost.


Article 72 EPC sets out the requirements for the assignment of a European patent application, stating that it “shall be made in writing and shall require the signature of the parties to the contract”. As we reported here, in Decision J 5/23 (2023), the Legal Board of Appeal found that absent a broader definition, the term “signature” in Article 72 EPC had to be interpreted as a handwritten depiction of someone’s name – a so-called wet ink signature. This was despite a 2021 notice from the EPO which indicated that electronic signatures should be accepted. In J 5/23, the Board found that this notice was not sufficient to override the EPC. However, they did leave the path open to electronic signatures by noting that the Implementing Regulations could be amended to widen the definition of a signature, without contradicting Article 72 EPC. The Implementing Regulations have now been amended, to delegate the competence to determine permitted signatures to the President of the EPO. Under this newly acquired power, the President has issued the decision to widen the scope of acceptable signatures.

What forms of signatures are now acceptable?

Assignments may now be authenticated by: “a handwritten signature, a facsimile signature, a text string signature or a digital signature under the conditions specified by the EPO”. This includes signatures produced by popular electronic agreement software (such as DocuSign).

In fact, the only specified requirements for digital signatures filed electronically are that they “are legible, are not infected with a computer virus and do not contain other malicious software”.

It is also worth noting that the President has issued an additional Decision (OJ EPO 2024, A18) meaning the same rules will apply for signatures on contracts and declarations relating to transferring European patents with unitary effect.

Other changes

Previously at the EPO, individuals signing contracts (such as assignments) on behalf of companies or other legal persons had to provide evidence of their entitlement to do so. This could often be inconvenient as companies had to take actions such as setting up a new power of attorney in order to provide this evidence. The EPO has now updated their practice and will no longer check this entitlement meaning no evidence needs to be provided. Of course, it is still important for the relevant person to be entitled, this will just no longer be checked by the EPO.  The new guidance does state that if a person is entitled to sign due to their position in the company, then this position should be expressly indicated. As such, it is important to include the signatory’s job title on relevant contracts relating to transferring European patents and applications, should this be what entitles them to sign.

Additionally, the administrative fee for registering transfers has been abolished when the registration is done via ‘MyEPO Portfolio’. This further reduces the burden on applicants. 


The Board’s decision in J 5/23 which meant wet ink signatures were required had led to some consternation, due to the wide-spread use of digital signatures in commercial transactions. This new decision from the President should make the process of recording assignments simpler for applicants and is in line with the EPO’s aim of making the rules suitable for a digital age. Additionally, removing the need to provide evidence of a signatory’s entitlement and abolishing the administrative fee for registering assignments further simplifies the process for applicants.

For more detailed advice in relation to any of the issues discussed above, or for advice relating to other matters regarding European practice, please do not hesitate to get in contact with your E+F representative or email us at

Meet the team
Asher Winter
Technical Assistant
Asher studied Chemistry at the University of Oxford (MChem), graduating with a 1st Class Honours Degree in 2021.
Andy Nicoll
Andy specialises in pharmaceuticals and nutrition. He has experience prosecuting patent applications in many major jurisdictions.