13 November 2015
At the EPO, we are committed to the ongoing improvement of our services. Together with increasing efficiency and production, we are continuously looking for new ways in which to save applicants both time and money in the patent granting process.
Last year, in November 2014, the EPO launched an optional procedure that would significantly shorten the overall pendency (the time it takes to grant a patent) and to reduce costs for applicants: PCT Direct. Under this new procedure, applicants who have selected the EPO as their international searching authority can link any first filing searched by the EPO with a subsequently filed PCT application. The key feature of such a process is the ability of the applicant to react to objections when filing an international application claiming priority in the form of a reply, the ‘PCT Direct letter’.
The PCT Direct letter enables applicants to strengthen their case by including reactions in the form of explanations, new arguments or amendments in the application. It is another means by which applicants are empowered with an extra channel to put their case forward.
From our first steps in developing this procedure, it was obvious that it generated substantial interest among our users. Before we launched the service, a one year pilot programme had already proven a sharp uptake by users in the first six months. Now, one year after the full launch of the PCT Direct procedure, the results show that it has enjoyed a successful start that continues to go from strength to strength. Newly available figures show that there has been a strong increase, with hundreds of requests for this service in the last few months. It is an extremely positive trend that we hope to see continue and that is bringing secondary benefits such as further reductions in the backlog.
Through our work on other ongoing or forthcoming initiatives, such as the Common Citation Document and the unitary patent, we continue to develop procedures and processes that contribute to a more efficient international patent system. They ensure that users can benefit from more timely patent administration, lower costs, increased usability and more legally-robust patents.
PCT Direct is no exception; in July this year we took measures to increase its availability in the international patent system. Up to 1 July 2015, the service had only been available to applicants using the EPO as their receiving office. From July, however, PCT Direct has been extended to other receiving offices and has contributed towards the increasing uptake of PCT Direct. Because of the extension, all PCT users who now select the EPO as their international searching authority, irrespective of the receiving office used, may submit a PCT Direct letter. In conjunction with the (PPH) Patent Prosecution Highway, PCT Direct also offer an additional benefit to users: it allows the requesting of free fast-track prosecution in other PPH offices, particularly those outside of Europe.
The decision to introduce a PCT Direct procedure, and to update it last July, represent concrete efforts by the EPO to reduce costs for the applicants and give them further options that can help their application. So far, the PCT Direct scheme has been welcomed by the PCT user community but we hope that many more will make use of this procedure in the future and reap the benefits that PCT Direct can bring.