Accelerated examination, Preferential examination, Patent Prosecution Highway, etc.

Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) marked average 9.8-month turnaround time (or time taken before first action is given) record in 2006.

USPTO granted the first patent examined under its new accelerated review option. The patent was published in as short as 6-months from filing.

Major patent offices like USPTO, Japan Patent Office (JPO), European Patent Office (EPO) and KIPO set as their major policy goal to reduce turnaround time. KIPO is the leading office in this agenda.

The shortened patent examination turnaround time, coupled with international cooperation among major patent offices will further expedite the patent examination procedure.

Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) is a good example of such international cooperation. PPH is not a firmly established concept but is evolving as more Patent Offices are signing MOUs to implement it.

The core idea of PPH is that the Office of Second Filing (OSF) makes use of the patent examination results of the Office of First Filing (OFF). If there is deep trust between the Offices on the quality of the examination, PPH will dramatically accelerate patent examination at the OSF.

Japan and the US are the first countries to pilot the PPH program. PPH between Japan and US started on July 4, 2006 (which had some meaning I surmise) and will end on July 3, 2007. It is a one-year program and no official announcement was made on whether the Offices will start the real program or extend the pilot program or end the program.

KIPO and JPO will start the full-fledged PPH on April 1, 2007. It should already have been started, had it not been that it was Sunday. KIPO has been very active and forward-going in making innovation. PPH is one example of KIPO’s attitude to wards new attempts at innovation. We will see the effect of the KIPO-JPO PPH in about 10 months, at the earliest because KIPO’s turnaround time is 10 months.

In addition to KIPO-JPO PPH, KIPO-JPO-SIPO (State IP Office of China) signed an MOU on PPH in October 2006. The MOU does not set the date for starting PPH because there are a lot of issues to be resolved among the three offices so as for the PPH to start.

On the other hand, USPTO, JPO, and EPO are considering their own version of cooperative scheme.

Where do all these international cooperations heading for? In the short run, OSF’s will benefit from lessened workload while the applicants in the OSF’s country will enjoy faster examination. In the long run, if most major patent Offices join one or another cooperation system, an applicant will only have to go through one substantive examination at the patent Office he prefers. If the applicant wants to register his patent elsewhere, he will only have to take the examination files from the OFF to the OSF, and the patent will be granted after formalities examination.

Formalities examination can be bypassed at the OSF if the international discussion on standardized application format bears fruit.

If all these scenarios go smoothly, patent applicants will enjoy much better world in terms of patent acquisition.

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