To face the COVID-19 pandemic, most Patent and Trademark Offices (“PTOs”) in Latin America have implemented several measures to continue providing services while safeguarding the health of their staff and the public in general.These measures evidenced the Latin American PTOs effective adaptation capacity to the new circumstances. Not only has this pandemic compelled the IP sectors to carry out various contingency plans to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak negative effects, but it has also accelerated an unforeseen -at least in the short term- modernization.
In Argentina in particular, the first move towards online filings took place back in 2012 through Regulation No. 266which urged the respective areas of the PTO to gradually incorporate online-performed procedures.
To that end, Regulations No. 305 of August 14, 2013, No. 110 of May 22, 2014, and 82 of August 24, 2016, issued by the Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Patents areas, respectively, established different online procedures, such as application filings, renewals, repliesto office actions and payments of official fees. Concerningtrademarks, electronic filing became mandatory for application, renewal and oppositions only as of November 15, 2019, pursuant to Regulation No. 288 of October 21, 2019.
This legal framework provided the Argentine PTO with the proper instruments for successfully dealing with the ongoing mandatory isolation decreed by the Executive Power, with just minor operational issues. In this sense, and despite the PTO has been successively extending the suspension of all running terms as of March 12, 2020 all trademark, patent and industrial design proceduresare nowsubmitted online.
Other Latin American PTOs, namely the Chilean and Brazilian Officeshave already lifted the suspension of terms without major changes, as online filings and services had been available wellbefore the pandemic started.
The Chilean online system was established in January 2018 and benefited the regular operation of IP matters. On June 23, 2020 the submission of digital copies of the powers of attorney and their authentication was allowed through the electronic user of each applicant.
The Brazilian PTO has been ahead of the curve indigital matters and remained almost fullyoperative, with terms suspended between March 16 and May 31 only. As a novelty, they have issued a regulation about a new priority examination procedure applicable to those patent applications related to pharmaceutical products, processes, equipment and materials related to COVID-19. This new regime will remain in force until June 30, 2021.
On the other hand, the PTOs in Bolivia as well as some offices in Central American countries,were not fully prepared to work online or just rendered services with a very limited staff. Therefore, this will probably lead to considerable backlogs.
While trying to align their IP practice to advanced international standards, Paraguay’s PTO is fluctuating to a digitally-based operation through a new e-filing system for trademark registrations and renewals, while Mexico, where digital services have been available since April 16, 2020, seems to be paving the way to a paperless office. Last but not least, Honduras, where an online system for trademark applications and renewals was available before lockdown, has been admitting new patent applications and trademark recordals as well as trademark searches as of June 2020.
It is then interesting to observe how the COVID-19 pandemic has not only suddenly and abruptly changed our lifestyles regardless of ournationality buthas also impacted the internal operation of our institutions, including the Patent and Trademark Offices, in different forms.
Modernization and digitalization of procedures have come to stay. For sure, a manifold of issues is yet to arise, but it will depend on both the PTOs and the IP practitioners to rise to the challenge.