In the arrangement, IPAU will act as an international search authority (ISA) for USPTO applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The Australian unit will also serve as an international preliminary examining authority (IPEA) for select applications. The two IP offices hope that their agreement will give applicants more flexibility to choose which international authority they wish to use, depending on the kind of technology they wish to disclose; the time they require their applications to be processed in, and their budgets for worldwide search and examination services. In sharing its PCT applications with IPAU, the USPTO intends to free up internal efficiency, allowing it to address a range of ongoing pendency issues.
The USPTO said that, under the terms of the agreement, 'an applicant selecting IPAU as the ISA will pay a search fee of $1514, which is less than the current USPTO fee. An applicant selecting IPAU as the IPEA must have had the international search performed by IPAU and will pay an international preliminary examination fee of AU$550 and a handling fee of AU$196 directly to IPAU.'
IPAU and the USPTO are among 15 IP offices authorised to conduct international searches and international preliminary examinations for PCT filings. All international applicants receive an International Search Report and an International Preliminary Report on Patentability, which help them to determine whether an application meets basic patentability criteria. This is a crucial step, as the costs of translating and filing across the range of PCT countries can often be high. The US-AU partnership comes into effect on 1 November 2008.
In related developments, the USPTO has also taken steps to bolster its links with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and European Patent Office (EPO). In late September, USPTO director Jon Dudas held a Geneva, Switzerland meeting with his opposite number at the JPO, commissioner Takashi Suzuki, to discuss how the two offices can optimise their already close relationship. Agreeing that expeditious protection of IP – particularly patents – was critical to fostering innovation and economic development, the director and commissioner signed a pledge to enhance their system of mutual cooperation. This aims to redouble work-sharing efforts between the US and Japan, and deepen the harmonisation of patent and trademark practices that has already begun with their priority document exchange program and Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH).
While that highway was being refreshed, another was being opened. Announced back in April, the USPTO and EPO Patent Prosecution Highway finally launched its one-year trial, scheduled to end for review on 29 September 2009. The EPO said that the PPH 'will leverage fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently. It also will permit each office to exploit the work previously done by the other office and reduce duplication. In turn the initiative will reduce examination workload and improve patent quality.'