Following a request for information, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) recently published a report regarding the number of requests for ‘Green Channel’ for patent applications. This has offered useful insight into the usefulness of the process.

At the UKIPO there are a number of options available for accelerating the prosecution of a patent application. Options include making a reasoned request to the UKIPO or using the PCT(UK) Fast-Track service for international applications. The Green Channel is another acceleration option which is applicable when the invention relates to an environmentally-friendly technology.

The report stated that since its introduction in May 2009, the UKIPO has received 969 requests for Green Channel acceleration. However, it also revealed that only 13 of these requests have been refused acceleration. Comparing the number of applications made from 2010 to 2013 to the number of requests for Green Channel acceleration over the same period, just 1.1% of applications have had a request for Green Channel acceleration. This makes Green Channel acceleration a seemingly rare request at the UKIPO.

How do you request Green Channel?

According to the UKIPO’s guidance document, to request Green Channel acceleration, the applicant should make a request in writing, indicating:

  1. How their application is environmentally-friendly; and
  2. Which actions they wish to accelerate: search, examination, combined search and examination, and/or publication.

What is particularly appealing with Green Channel acceleration is that beyond the invention itself being environmentally-friendly, there is no further reasoning required for acceleration. This differs to a normal request for accelerated search and/or examination which must be accompanied by an acceptable explanation of why the request should be allowed. As for a request for PCT(UK) Fast-Track, that requires a positive International Preliminary Report on Patentability during International prosecution.

Applicants may be deterred from requesting Green Channel acceleration where they are under the impression that their invention will not be eligible. However, they may be surprised: the UKIPO’s guidance states that it is not just environmentally-friendly technologies such as wind and solar energy which are eligible, but any technology which has some environmental benefit can receive the Green Channel benefit. The UKIPO cite an application which describes a simpler manufacturing process using less energy as an example of such an eligible technology.

There is also no requirement for when the Green Channel request is made. Even if an application was filed prior to the introduction of Green Channel, an accelerated examination may be requested.

Just how useful is Green Channel?

On the UKIPO website a list of all the applications where Green Channel acceleration of some form has been requested is published. Notably, a number of applications which were filed in January and February 2014 have already been granted, suggesting a deliverable total prosecution time of around eight to 10 months from the acceleration request. Total prosecution time will naturally vary depending on the nature of the invention and the objections received from the UKIPO. However, where rapid grant is a necessity, Green Channel appears to make this possible.

Applicants should note though that there can be advantages to delaying the grant of a patent which may make any acceleration of patent prosecution undesirable. Typically this stems from the fact that divisional applications, and broadening amendments, cannot be filed after grant. However, Green Channel need not be used just for obtaining faster grant of new applications. It can also be used for accelerating issuance of the search report. Therefore, if an acceleration might have some benefit for you, whether you have a new UK application, or one filed more than a year ago, consider whether the technology might have some environmental benefit. If so, Green Channel acceleration might be an option.