Quality assurance in the Patent process
This concerns the national patent process, however corresponding quality measures apply also to the international patent process, PCT.
Patent processing is in many aspects a team effort where everyone has their role in the process. For the processing to be carried out in an assured, harmonized and predictable manner, cooperation between different functions must function smoothly. During the search and examination process the Patent examiner has always, from the moment when he/she receives the application until the final decision, the possible to contact a Patent Expert if issues arise. Discussions can take place regarding issues that occur in the assessment of the application, such as the interpretation of the patent application / patent claims before the novelty search commences; relevant classes / search terms and search strategies for carrying out the novelty search; interpretation of documents comprising the prior art; examination and formulation of the decision; deficiencies in the design of the patent application / patent claims and others. The Patent Examiner also has the opportunity to consult with a colleague or with a lawyer should legal issues arise..
Upon completion of the search, the Patent Examiner records the result derived from the novelty search in an electronic log book, which is also used as a tool for searching (see below). The log book is provided with details of the search and examination, such as the classification of the patent application; a summary of the invention; a relevant figure; problem and solution reasoning; deficiencies in the application; reviewed documentation with regards to databases used, etc.; relevant search classification; search terms / words; prior art documents; and other examination tips and relevant information. The log book is searchable and initially used in the processing of new patent applications before composing search strategies to check if there are any earlier filed similar applications. It can also be used for collision investigation, i.e. search for earlier filed applications that are potential obstacles to novelty, but that are not yet public.
Consultation due to only "A-citations"
If the Patent Examiner was unable to find relevant documents anticipating the invention, having searched among the most relevant documentation when performing the novelty search he/she is obliged to initiate a so-called "consultation due to only A-citations." In this procedure, the Patent examiner immediately contacts a Patent expert or a Patent examiner colleague with knowledge of the technology concerned. A discussion concerning, for example, claim interpretation, technology, classes, keywords, or search strategies can provide valuable inputs and lead to new insights for the Patent examiner, and thus to new ideas for moving forward in the search and examination process.
Second pair of eyes
After completion of the search and examination of a patent application the file is subject to a quality control by a colleague, "Second pair of eyes". In this quality control the reviewer checks the application with regard to a number of issues documented in the electronic log book, and identified shortcomings in the application may be discussed with the Patent examiner who has searched and examined the application. In this way, the responsible Patent examiners receive feedback on their work and a high quality of patent prosecution is ensured. Statistics from the "second pair of eyes" approach helps to identify where skills development and quality improvement measures are needed in the Patent process. The questions used in the "second pair of eyes" form can be varied periodically by the management team and in that sense directed to focus on quality initiatives.
Presentation before further notices
If the applicant has responded to a notice and the Patent examiner is of the opinion that there are still obstacles for granting a patent it might be necessary to issue a further notice. In this case the Patent examiner presents the case and provides an overview of the status of the situation in the specific application to a Patent expert. The Patent expert then decides on the most appropriate action to move the matter forward.
Control of the notice of approval
When the Patent examiner is of the opinion that the application does not contain any major obstacles, a notice of approval is issued. The notice of approval is always checked by a Patent expert before being dispatched. The check is carried out using a specially designed form with a battery of questions regarding the control documents (the documents forming the basis for the patent) and their content. If the Patent expert is not satisfied with the quality of the work, the application is sent back to the Patent examiner for correction.
Presentation and quality assurance of rejection decisions
If a Patent examiner is of the opinion that an application cannot be granted, the application is presented before a Patent expert for a decision concerning rejection of the application. If the rejection decision is based on or involves legal grounds for denial, a lawyer is consulted. When the decision of rejection is made, a quality assurance check of the decision is undertaken by a Patent expert other than the one who made the decision. The Patent expert checks the decision according to a predefined battery of questions. These questions relate to matters other than the substantive examination.
Annual quality check, applied practice
An annual quality check of approximately 300 written opinions/communications (equivalent to about 3 per Patent examiner) is carried out in the direction of the Patent Expert Council. The purpose with the check is to give an indication to what extent the Patent examiners follows the stipulated practice when assessing a patent application. One focus has been to verify how Problem-Solution Approach (PLM) is applied when assessing inventive step. Feedback of the result is directed directly to the Patent examiner concerned and structural deficiencies identified leads to review and possible modification of work instructions, guidelines, and training materials. Extra training is given where necessary. The results from the review are presented for our customer groups at Customer meetings.
Annual quality metrics, search quality (not launched yet)
A comparison is made on an annual basis of the search results obtained by the EPO and PRV. The comparison is based on national applications and equivalent priority applications (EP / PCT ISA) filed to the EPO. A comparison is made between the cited documents used in the search and examination process by each Office, and how they have been assessed.
Parallel and repeated searches
A parallel search is carried out by two Patent examiners independently for the same application, and is followed by a comparison of the results. A repeated search is carried out by two patent examiners for the same application serially, the examiner who performs the latter search has access to the results from the previous search. The purpose of the parallel and repeated searches is to broaden the skills of the Patent examiners by learning from each other. These types of quality measures are relatively resource intensive and are therefore performed only when a need is identified and resources are available.
Our service commitment stipulates time limits within which applicants shall be notified of the result of the prosecution of their applications. To ensure that we can meet the time limits indicated in the service commitment the workload and number of delayed cases in each technical unit are continuously and regularly monitored. The director of the unit is responsible for ensuring that no cases are delayed. One reason why we do not have a 100% achievement of the time limits stated in the service commitment is that in some cases it is not feasible to conclude an application within the agreed time limits. Another reason can be that the applicant uses the possibility not to reply to a notice, meaning that the application will be regarded as withdrawn. The applicant has then a possibility to revive the application within a certain time limit, according to the patent legislation. The time limits might also be temporarily extended due to workload fluctuations.