A few days ago I attended an evening meeting at Ideas21 in London. It was part of consulting about a "fast track" patenting proposal.
Two members of the UK Intellectual Property Office explained the proposals set out in a consultation paper published in September. The Gowers Review on Intellectual Property had, among other things, recommended a faster way of obtaining patents, and the consultation was the result.
At present the normal route to a British patent is the publication of an application 18 months from the priority date (the initial filing for the invention anywhere in the world) followed by the granted patent. At present the average time taken to grant is 28 months (in the European Patent Office it is 46). Many applicants want a faster route, usually because of fear of infringers.
There is already a fast route. The normal fees are Â£30 to apply, Â£100 for a search into the prior art, and Â£70 for a substantive examination to decide if a patent should be granted (the actual costs are about Â£1700, apparently, and renewal fees to keep the patent in force is what finances it all). This Â£200 fee can be paid at the start, instead of in stages, in a "combined search and examination" (CSE) procedure. The application is published at 18 months as normal, but the grant comes out only 3 months later. 25% of applicants already use this procedure. The idea is that there is a period during which "observations" can be made by interested parties, though few apparently do so.
In addition, if reasons are given then the search or the examination can be accelerated. Only about 1% of applicants ask for this.
The proposal was to offer a new procedure which would cost Â£600. It would take a minimum of 9 months from filing in the UK (which may be up to 12 months after the original priority filing elsewhere) to proceed to a granted patent. The following time periods are from the date of UK filing: a CSE would be carried out and sent to the applicant after 3 months; the application would be published at 5 months; any observations would be received by the end of 8 months; and if there were no problems it would be granted at 9 months.
There was much discussion from the twenty or so around a large table, mainly inventors or representatives of (smallish ?) companies, with a few patent attorneys. Many wanted late disclosure of the invention combined with early grant, and 5 months seemed too early for many. Inventors would have to be alert, as a premature filing would mean an inability to revise the technical content and refile, as it would have been published. Someone from the London Technology Fund delivered a long analysis, which in a nutshell was that he would prefer that they took longer and gave more certainty. He and others were worried that there would be no extra resources to provide this speedy route without slowing things up for everyone else. Apparently no extra money would in fact be allocated other than the Â£600 fee.
Matt Dixon argued that it would be easier to simply go to the European Patent Office and ask for a quick search and examination. No reasons have to be given, yet apparently few use this procedure. My only comment was saying that Germany has for many years had a CSE procedure whereby a single granted document, without any earlier application, can be published at 18 months from priority. This provided late disclosure yet also early grant. It would mean no chance for others to make comments before grant, and hence it was possible to oppose it later. I rather like this procedure, but no one offered support.
There was also talk of "submarine" patent applications. As applications do not normally appear until 18 months from priority, neither the applicant nor, in theory, the patent offices will know about them for a long time. The officials assured the audience that "top-up" searches are always done at the examination stage to catch relevant material published since the search had been done.
No conclusion was made, as so many differing opinions were offered. The officials said that they found it useful, and I certainly had a good time listening to the often very stubbornly argued points made by those present. If anyone wishes to make comments about the proposals, they are required by the 14 December.