Posted by Horacio Gutierrez
Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel
 
United States Patent and Trademark OfficeIn early August, David Kappos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  We congratulate Dave on his new position and offer our full support in tackling the challenges ahead – not the least of which is to bring the patent system into the 21st Century.  As Dave knows well from his many years of experience in the U.S. and abroad, when faced with huge challenges, unique opportunities arise.  
 
Big challenges certainly confront the global patent system: Escalating patent application backlogs; lengthening pendency periods; increasing costs of patent prosecution; dubious patent quality due to the global explosion of prior art and the time allowed to examine applications; and examination inefficiency due to duplication of work by multiple offices.  
 
But these challenges also present unprecedented opportunity.  One of the biggest is the opportunity to advance patent harmonization. 
 
Global patent harmonization is not just wishful thinking about an ideal patent system.  Rather, it is a necessity if national patent authorities are to overcome the substantial difficulties they face. 
 
Over 3.5 million patent applications are pending around the world, including over 750,000 in the U.S.  Pendency periods are extending to three, four or in some case five years before final patents are issued.  The cost of this workload to patent applicants and patent offices is too high, and the delays in securing patents are too long for entrepreneurs and large enterprises alike. 
 
In today’s world of universal connectivity, global business and collaborative innovation, it is time for a world patent that is derived from a single patent application, examined and prosecuted by a single examining authority and litigated before a single judicial body. 
 
A harmonized, global patent system would resolve many of the criticisms leveled at national patent systems over unmanageable backlogs and interminable pendency periods.  
 
To increase efficiency and enhance patent quality, patent offices also need to leverage collaboration and work sharing opportunities.  As I blogged previously, national patent offices should be commended for their early efforts at work sharing through projects such as the Patent Prosecution Highway and the "IP5" partnership.  
 
The logical next step is to accelerate the work underway to align patent approval procedures and application formats, including a common digital application, and to collaboratively set standards for patentable subject matter, adequacy of disclosure and enablement requirements, and the completeness of the examination record.  Bold action is needed.  Stringent criteria must be established and clearly understood so patent search and examination results can be accepted by patent authorities around the world.
 
By facing the challenges, realizing a vision, overcoming political barriers, and removing procedural obstacles we can build a global patent system that will promote innovation, enrich public knowledge, encourage competition and drive economic growth and employment.  The time is now – the solutions are in reach.