The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have begun a twelve-month pilot scheme designed to expedite the processing of patent applications in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The system, launched on 4th September, is known as the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) and its creation follows the introduction of similar schemes between the Japan Patent Office and the UK-IPO and USPTO which were established in July of this year. The PPH and the scheme with the Japan Patent Office are the products of continuing efforts to implement many of the recommendations of the Gowers Report. Recommendation 19 of the Report encouraged the UK-IPO (then known as the Patent Office) to pursue work-sharing arrangements with the USPTO and Japan Patent Office.

From the perspective of an applicant for a patent with the UK-IPO the PPH will help to cut down the application time for a corresponding patent application in the US where an examination has already been carried out by the UK-IPO and the UK-IPO has determined that at least one claim of the application is acceptable. Under the PPH the applicant of the UK application will be entitled to submit a corresponding application to the USPTO and request accelerated examination of that corresponding application. The reverse of this also applies where the initial examination has been carried out by the USPTO and the applicant seeks to submit a corresponding application to the UK-IPO.

In this way the UK-IPO and the USPTO will be able to utilise and benefit from the examination work that has been carried out by the equivalent body in the other jurisdiction. This will save the office that receives the second application time and will help to avoid what the Gowers Report refers to as "cross-national duplication of effort". It is anticipated that the PPH will lead to improvements in not only the efficiency of the procedures used in both offices but also in the quality of the patents that are issued.

The institution of the PPH has been heralded on both sides of the Atlantic. Lord Triesman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property and Quality, said:

"The agreement will help to efficiently and effectively safeguard inventors' intellectual property and help to stimulate innovation on a national and international scale. The PPH will further enhance the UK-IPO's reputation for delivering a high quality, cost effective service and is a valuable addition to the services offered at the UK-IPO."

US Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Jon Dudas, echoed these sentiments and went on to highlight the objectives of the PPH:

"Our collective goal is to reduce duplication of work, speed up processing and improve quality."

In order to make a request for accelerated examination from the UK-IPO the applicant must submit a copy of the search and examination reports prepared by the other patent office and complete the relevant application materials. These materials together with instructions as to how to complete them and what to provide as part of the application can be accessed on the UK-IPO web site at www.ipo.gov.uk.

A similar process must be followed for applications to the USPTO. Further details and instructions on the process required to make a request for accelerated examination to the USPTO.