Digital signature

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Electronic signature

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) accepts electronic IP applications. The request has to bear a qualified electronic signature of the applicant so that the sender can be clearly authenticated.

For the search of possible signature card providers, the European Union provides an online search option externer Link Trusted List Browser. Please note that currently only cards from German providers can be used.

For use of the DPMAdirektPro service, we additionally accept the following qualified signatures of the international organisations in the field of industrial property protection listed here (Sec. 3(3) Ordinance Concerning the Electronic Legal Transactions with the German Patent and Trade Mark Office [Verordnung über den elektronischen Rechtsverkehr beim Deutschen Patent- und Markenamt]):

  • Online Services Smart Card of the European Patent Office (EPO)
    Please note: The EPO will stop issuing new smart cards as of January 2024. The use of these cards, provided they are still valid, is possible at the EPO until the end of 2024, see also externer Link (as of 06.09.2023). For DPMAdirektPro, valid EPO smart cards can be used until 31.12.2024 at the latest. The future two-factor authentications (2FA) of the EPO will not be valid for submissions with DPMAdirektPro!

Current restrictions

At present, the following cards cannot be processed by the DPMA:

  • qualified signature cards with remote signature (currently only the new card of the Bundesnotarkammer [German Federal Chamber of Notaries] – new beA card)

With this cards, when you try to file, you will receive the following error message instead of the notification of receipt from the DPMA server: "Das erforderliche Signaturniveau wurde nicht erreicht." (The required signature level was not reached).
Unfortunately, at present, it is not possible to predict when the issues leading to the error messages will be resolved.

Technically, only qualified signature cards with the certificate for the qualified signature on the card can be processed at present. This is not the case for cards with remote signature. For these cards, the certificate is located on secure servers, e.g. of the card provider; the advanced signature on the card is used for signing in DPMAdirektPro. However, this does not comply with the legal requirements.

How the qualified electronic signature works

A qualified electronic signature is a type of seal for digital data. It is created by using mathematical methods and a private key. A corresponding public key can be used to verify the signature any time, and hence to identify the holder of the signature key and to check the data for authenticity.

Each unique pair of keys (private key and public key) is allocated to an individual natural person by officially recognised bodies. The allocation is attested by a qualified certificate of the signature key. This is a signed digital document which contains the respective public key and the name of the person to which it is allocated or a pseudonym. The holder of the signature key receives the certificate so that they can attach the signed data for verification. Furthermore, it is verifiable by anybody, any time, via publicly available telecommunication links (e.g. Internet).

The significance of the electronic signature

The development of information and communication technology opens new possibilities: orders for goods, payment instructions to banks, official requests or objections, all these can be done online now. The transmission of sensitive health data and a large number of communication relationships that were handled on paper in the past are now also processed electronically, though it is not always guaranteed that they actually are legally binding.

That is why there is a need for a digital solution for a legally binding signature: the electronic signature. A distinction is made in ascending order of safety requirements between

  • simple electronic signature
  • advanced electronic signature
  • qualified electronic signature

The security infrastructure for qualified electronic signatures allows to reliably identify authorship and verify the integrity of the data in electronic legal and business transactions. Hence, the electronic signature constitutes an equivalent substitute for the handwritten signature and can have a corresponding legal effect.

The signature certificate required for this purpose must be issued by an accredited certification service provider.

Why signing and encrypting?

The signing of a message is not the same as the encryption of a message. When you sign a message you add a type of personal seal to it which identifies you as the sender of the message and excludes the subsequent falsification of data. However, the digital signature does not protect your document from unauthorised inspection but neither will a handwritten signature on a paper document protect it from inspection by others.
For this purpose, you must additionally encrypt your document. Encryption is often an additional option provided by the application software. Both functions are important in electronic data transfer. They can be used simultaneously or independently of each other.

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Last updated: 8 July 2024