By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Amid growing concerns by some U.S. lawmakers that federal officials may be granting patents that fuel abusive litigation, the head of the European Patent Office says his agency is producing better-quality patents than its American counterpart.
EPO President Benoît Battistelli said his office scrutinizes patent applications more closely than the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which he said results in patents that are more legally sound going out the door.
"It means we are sometimes not issuing patents which have been issued in the U.S.," Battistelli said in an interview on Tuesday.
Asked whether this means that European patents are of better quality, he said, "This is what we think."
USPTO spokesman Paul Fucito declined to comment.
Battistelli made his comments after USPTO Director Michelle Lee testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. She defended her agency over a July report by the Government Accountability Office that found the PTO's policies and practices may be hurting patent quality.
Without a consistent definition of patent quality or requirements for greater clarity in applications, the GAO said the PTO is at risk of issuing overly broad patents that are more likely to be used to sue companies for infringement.
Most patent-related lawsuits in the United States are filed by companies that make money by litigating patents instead of selling products, referred to by some as "patent trolls."
Lee told the committee that patent quality is a top priority for her, and is the reason behind an ongoing programme at the agency that aims to enhance quality through improved training of employees, automated searches of prior art, and other measures.
"High-quality patents ... reduce the potential for abusive litigation, permitting our companies to focus on innovation," she said.
Battistelli, a French national who has led the EPO since 2010, said his agency has developed databases and search engines that allow it to perform the most comprehensive research on prior inventions that could lead to a rejection of a patent.
Unlike in the United States, he added, all patent applications are scrutinized by three officials, known as patent examiners, rather than just one.
This leads to a lower rate of granted patents, he said, but they are legally solid.
On the other hand, it costs roughly twice as much to obtain a patent in Europe, around 5,000 euros ($5,625), than in the United States.
(Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis)