On 7 October 2015, IP Australia announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European patent office (EPO) to increase bilateral cooperation between the two offices with the aim of delivering benefits to users of the patent systems in both Australia and the European community.

The areas of potential collaboration between the two patent offices are wide ranging, including the reciprocal access to patent information and the establishment of a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) pilot program. These two initiatives are both likely to provide significant benefit to Australian patent applicants.

Patent prosecution highway

In previous editions of Inspire!, we have reported on the global patent prosecution highway (GPPH) that exists between Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Finland, Japan, Korea, the Nordic Patent institute, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, The United kingdom and the United states of America. Under the global patent prosecution highway, applicants can utilise  the results of examination in one jurisdiction to request expedited examination of their application in another GPPH country which increases prosecution speed and facilitates early patent grant.

Unfortunately the European patent office is  not a member of the GPPH and so Australian patent applicants have not yet been able to take advantage of the results of examination in Australia to expedite the prosecution of their European applications. Following the signing of the MoU, the two patent offices are now working towards establishing the framework to implement a Patent Prosecution Highway. The details of how the Patent Prosecution Highway will be implemented are still being discussed by the two offices, and it is anticipated that users of the system will not be able to take advantage of this development until midway through calendar year 2016. Nevertheless, once the system is in place there will be the opportunity for innovators in both jurisdictions to accelerate the prosecution of their patent applications. We will provide more information as soon as details of the process are finalised.

Information sharing

The other anticipated benefit to innovators from the increased collaboration between IP Australia and the EPO will be in the area of information sharing between the two offices. The MoU encompasses a pilot project which will allow IP Australia to gain experience with using the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system. The CPC is the result of an initiative between the USPTO and the EPO to develop a common internationally agreed upon classification system for technical documents which should facilitate faster and more accurate patent searching and lead to better examination outcomes.

Finally, the information sharing will lead to improvements in the Global Patent Dossier project which provides a platform for the sharing of patent examination information between patent offices. The sharing of such information typically leads to faster examination of patent applications throughout the world and should enable IP Australia to reduce their already impressive turn-around time between the date of filing of an examination request and the date of receipt of an examination report.

Summary

Whilst IP Australia and the EPO are still working through the details of how to implement all the agreed upon actions from the MoU, the initiatives that flow from it are likely to lead to faster, more efficient examination in Australia and provide Australian innovators with the ability to use the grant of an Australian patent to expedite examination  in the European patent office.