In the face of overwhelming scepticism, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has abandoned plans for a fast track system for patent processing. It has been urged to accept the need to focus instead on improving its existing “Combined Search and Examination” service (CSE). It is as yet unclear, however, what form such improvement might take and it is possible that it may not extend beyond clarification of current processes.

BACKGROUND

In December 2005, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the Gowers Review panel to conduct an independent review into the so-called “UK Intellectual Property Framework”. The Review outlined recommendations focusing on the speed at which UK patents are processed and granted and suggested that fast track processing should be pursued in order to speed up the process when required by the individual patent applicant. In 2007, the UK-IPO carried out a public consultation on a new fast track service for processing patent applications.

FAST TRACK PROPOSAL AND CONSULTATION

In brief, the proposal was for a new single process for fast tracking the patent application for a fee of £400-£600. The process would speed up the actual review by examiners of the formalities and processing of the application. If Office Actions were issued by the patent examiner, these would essentially jump up the examination queue with the hope that the entire filing-to-grant process could be accomplished within a year of the filing date. The new fast track system was to incorporate the existing CSE, which would result in the CSE being dropped as part of the IPO’s normal range of service offerings.

RESPONSES

The IPO received a total of 17 responses from a range of interested parties, including patent attorneys and professional representative bodies and firms. In summary, the overall opinion was for support of the previous CSE system and accelerated services and not the new fast tracking system proposed by the Gowers Review panel.

BACKTRACK

In light of these responses, the IPO will not be proceeding with the fast track system for processing patent applications. Instead the IPO is “in the process of clarify ing and giving more prominence to guidance in relation to our existing services”. A new guidance note will be issued in the not too distant future and seemingly will be front and centre on the IPO’s website.

COMMENT

It was interesting to note that the IPO keeps a “balanced scorecard” of its key targets. For 2008/09, it intends to reach a target for processing accelerated examinations, i.e., issue substantive response to an allowable request for accelerated patent examination within two months of receipt in 90 per cent of searched applications, presumably using the CSE service.