The application is then transferred to the searching authority, in the Hague or in Berlin, that is in charge of establishing a search report. The EPO usually strives to issue the search report within 9 months after filing if the application does not claim any priority; this deadline is however also frequently of several years if the European application is not the first filing for this invention.
The search report contains a list of documents discovered by the search examiner and which are judged relevant to assess the novelty and the inventiveness of the application. The cited documents are attached to the report.
A letter against each document indicates its relevance. The most important codes are "X", used to designate a document which on its own is considered to pose a challenge to the novelty or inventiveness of a claim of the application, and "Y", which designates documents which, together and in combination with one another, allow the inventiveness of a claim to be contested. The letter "A" designates documents cited as technological background.
The aim of the search report is only to establish the patentability of the claimed invention, but not to assess whether it can be used freely without infringing upon existing patents. An older patent, comprising claims sufficiently broad to be infringed by the invention, but that does not describe the new claimed characteristic, will not necessarily be cited even though the applicant would obviously be interested in this patent being brought to his attention. The search report also does not indicate whether the cited patents are still in force.
The search report for European applications not claiming priority is accompanied by an opinion on patentability. The applicant does not need to respond immediately.