The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has launched an online dossier service for national patent application data jointly provided by the IP5 offices (USPTO, JPO, KIPO, EPO, and SIPO). The general public now has access to a single web portal to view, track and download prosecution history documents of any national/regional patent application at the five patent offices, including consolidated information on examination progress and prior art citations for different members of the same patent family.

Although the EPO has provided a similar dossier service for some time, its functionality is rather limited. The EPO system allows the user to individually select a national patent application and view its information in a separate page, while the new USPTO Global Dossier features an integrated interface to view all family members in a more intuitive way, together with their lists of documents and examination status. Not only can patent publication numbers be used as keywords for searching in the dossier, but also patent application numbers. In addition, in the dossier of a particular patent family member, the dossiers of other family members can be accessed via a drop-down menu. This avoids the need to return to the patent family summary page.

One of the most exciting functions provided by the new USPTO service is the enhanced real-time translation function for documents sent or received by a patent office (referred to below as “intermediate documents”) during the prosecution history. This service allows an instant and qualitative way of converting into English any Asian-language contents in intermediate documents, such as official communications, claim amendments and applicants’ arguments. This will likely be of great assistance to patent stakeholders in English-speaking countries such as the UK. In the past, companies have often been forced to spend considerable time and cost obtaining English or other translations of Chinese, Japanese or Korean-language intermediate documents – not only because there is no reliable and user-friendly English-language interface to access the information, but also because little facility has been provided for translating intermediate documents. With the new service, whether companies and individuals want to track the progress of their own overseas patent applications, or investigate competitors’ patents in Asia, efficient and cost-effective access to this information is now available. This means that for non-crucial tasks such as competitor analysis, less costly processes can be developed to quickly determine the prospects of competitors’ patent applications without having to obtain full translations of their prosecution history documents.

However, users should be aware of the limitations of the new service at the present time. The current Global Dossier service is slow in providing up-to-date prosecution documents for certain countries. Delays of several months are not uncommon, which means that it may not be suitable for time-critical activities. In such cases, it is advisable to contact a local patent professional to obtain details on the latest status and file wrapper from the national patent office. In addition, although machine translations is surprisingly effective, professional translation by a Patent Attorney should be sought when accuracy of translation is required – for example, when the language of a claim needs to be properly construed.