SAN JOSE, Calif. Patent offices in the United States and the United Kingdom announced a trial program Tuesday (Sept. 4) geared to streamline the process of obtaining a patent in the countries. The so-called Patent Prosecution Highway will link fast-track patent examination processes in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office.
The new trial is in addition to one recently expanded between the US and Japan patent offices. Discussions are underway to start a similar program between the US and Korean patent offices. That trial could begin early next year.
Under the trial program, when either the USPTO or the UK IPO accepts at least one claim in an application as patentable, the applicant may request the other office fast track the examination of the claim in corresponding applications. The aim is to let the patent offices leverage each other's work, speeding the patent examination process.
Patent examiners benefit because they get access to the prior art search the partner office has conducted. In addition, claims are limited to those approved by the other country. Applicants can see the time from submission to first office action slashed from 20-30 months to as few as two months in the second country.
The trial is slated to run a year in an effort to gauge how effective it is and how interested applicants are in it. The trial could be shortened or lengthened depending on what officials learn.
The US patent office saw a historic high of nearly 400,000 new applications in 2005 at a time when it was carrying a record backlog of about 620,000 applications.
The bi-lateral arrangements could help highlight differences in patent laws between the two countries. In this way the program could help pave the way toward a broader, ambitious goal of harmonizing the patent system on a global basis.
"Our collective goal is to reduce duplication of work, speed up processing, and improve quality," said Jon Dudas, director of the USPTO in a prepared statement. "This pilot project with the UK IPO builds on our work with the Japan Patent Office, and contributes to a more rational international patent system," he added.
The US and Japan patent offices launched a trial program in July 2006. It was recently expanded to include more patent types, and the Japan trial now will run through January 2008.
"The PPH is a further step towards a global patent prosecution highway network," said Ian Fletcher Ian Fletcher, chief executive of the UK IPO.
The U.S.-Japan collaboration "is already showing great promise," he added.
More than 73,000 patent applications were filed in the US from Japan in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. That makes it one of the largest sources for overseas applications. By contrast, about 8,600 US applications came from the United Kingdom on 2005.