Tuesday, August 09, 2005

UK PATENT OFFICE REPORTS THAT PATENT GRANTS ARE UP, BUT APPLICATION FILING IS DOWN: The UK patent office says it granted eight per cent more patents last year than in 2003, yet the numbers of patent applications is in decline.

This is especially true in the field of computing and electronics. For example, in the category Electronic circuitry; telecommunications, 1,385 applications were published - a drop of 15 per cent - while 1635 were granted, up 21 per cent. In fact the UK PTO granted more patents than it received in this category.

However, a spokesperson for the UK Patent Office said that since applications may linger up to three years in the Patent Office before a decision is made, it is possible that the anomaly is the result of a glut of patents applied for in prior years being granted.

By far the most prolific patent applicants are the technology companies. Hewlett-Packard topped 2004, receiving 294 patents granted. NEC made third position, IBM and Samsung were in fourth and fifth place respectively. Places 8, 9 and 10 went to Ericsson, Motorola and Intel - the latter receiving 107 patents.

Furthermore, the UKPTO published 12,993 applications and granted 10,541: that's more than 80 per cent. Even though patents granted may be the result of applications that have taken a number of years to complete, in 2003 that figure was 75 per cent - this is apparently higher than the allowance rate of the US, which is around 54%.

The UK PO claims that this trend was due to "higher quality" patent applications, since applicants are better informed and that there are more support networks and patents attorneys to help ensure applications are made appropriately.

However, there are questions regarding the accuracy of this statement. Back in the 1990's, the European Patent Offices had reputations of issuing higher quality patents, but this was due, at least in part, to the fact the the workloads of European examiners was much lower than in the US. As such, the examiners were given more time to examine applications. However, in light of the precipitous rise in applications over the last 5 years, the question remains whether or not EU Patent Offices have kept up with the surge in patent filings by hiring more examiners (something the USPTO has not done too well as of late).

Also, there is the theory that, since the UK Patent Office has a much more hard-lined approach to software patents, applicants are instead filing software patents with the EPO, which has a slightly more relaxed view on software patents. As Greg Aharonian correctly states, "some of the drop in filings at the UKPO may not indicate a lack of interest, but rather reflects shifts in forums."

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