14 April 2014
Last week in Trieste, Italy, I attended two meetings involving patent offices and industry from three regions (Europe, the US and Japan), dedicated to the harmonisation of rules, procedures and practices of the patent system.
The first meeting was a further session of the so-called Tegernsee group, composed of heads of Office and experts from the patent offices of Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and US, and the EPO. This body, set up in 2011 with a focus on fact-finding, produced a general report in October 2012 on four main issues relating to patent law harmonisation (grace period, 18-month publication, prior user rights, treatment of conflicting applications). It subsequently carried out a major user consultation in the three regions, the results of which were compiled in specific reports and published in June 2013. This year, in Trieste, the group presented a final comparative analysis, which should become available soon, like the previous elements.
I am grateful to the members of the Tegernsee group for their hard work, and I am very pleased by the fruitful outcome of this technical exercise, which was conducted in full transparency, involving the users of the patent system at several stages. The conclusions have been officially forwarded by the Tegernsee group to the Group B+, which comprises representatives of all the European states, together with, inter alia, the US, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea and China as an observer. It is now for the Group B+ to decide whether to take the material gathered by the Tegernsee group into account as a basis for further progress in the discussion on patent law harmonisation. At all events, the Tegernsee participants are firmly convinced of the need for a plurilateral forum, to avoid the possible multiplication of distinct regimes adopted through bilateral agreements, which would make the situation still more complicated for the users of the patent system.
The second meeting was the gathering of the Trilateral Offices (the JPO, USPTO and EPO) with representatives of industry from the three regions. Among the various agenda items, one topic that stood out was a list of possible improvements relating to the harmonisation of procedures and practices between the three Offices. This, at first sight, might seem less important than the harmonisation of substantive patent law, but technical differences in patent office practice – for example, in rules on claim drafting or the presentation of written amendments – can seriously encumber the users of the system. Here, too, harmonisation can save a great deal of time and money, and work on these issues should certainly continue in the coming months.
Trieste is well known as a city where distinct European worlds and cultures (Latin, Germanic and Slavic) converge, and was a perfect setting to illustrate how different actors in the global patent system can progress in their mutual understanding and advance towards the approximation and simplification of the system for the benefit of the community.