Quality assurance in the patent process
This applies to national applications, but corresponding quality-assurance measures are also implemented in the processing of international patent applications (PCT).
Patent examination is in many respects a team effort in which everyone has a role to play in the process. To ensure trustworthy, harmonised and consistent examination, cooperation between different roles must be smooth. During the technical examination of an application, the examiner always has the possibility to contact a patent expert if questions arise, from the moment that he or she receives the case until the final decision is made. Discussions can be held on issues that arise in the examination process, such as interpretation of the application/patent claim prior to review, relevant categories/words and search strategies for review, interpretation of relevant documents, assessment and notice writing, deficiencies in the drafting of the application/patent claim, etc. The examiner also has the possibility to consult with a colleague or a lawyer if legal issues arise.
Upon completion of the examination, the patent engineer documents the review work and the results in an electronic review sheet, which is also used as a tool in the case-management process. The review sheet includes information on the category of the application, summary of the invention, relevant figures, problem and solution, deficiencies in the application, material reviewed, relevant search categories, searchable concepts/words, counter-evidence adduced and other relevant documents, as well as other review tips and information relevant to the examination process. The review sheet is searchable and is used initially when dealing with new cases before setting up an examination strategy to check for multiple older similar applications. It can also be used for collision review, i.e., searching for older applications that may be potential novelty obstacles but are not publicly available.
Consultation on A references only
If a patent engineer does not find relevant obstacles to patenting (counter-evidence) after review of the most relevant documentation, a so-called "consultation on A references only" is always carried out. In this procedure, a patent expert or a patent engineer colleague with knowledge in the relevant field of technology is always contacted. A discussion on, for example, claim interpretation, technology, categories, keywords, or search strategies can provide valuable input and lead to new insights for the patent engineer and thus new ideas to move forward in the review work.
Once a patent application has been reviewed and assessed, the case is handed over to a colleague for checking, a process known as case assurance. During the check, the assuring colleague answers a number of questions in an electronic assurance sheet and the application’s identified ambiguities, deficiencies, etc. are raised for discussion with the patent engineer acting as patent examiner. Through case assurance, the patent examiner receives feedback on his/her work and a high quality of case handling is assured. Statistics from the work on the assurance sheet help to identify where skills development and quality improvement measures are needed in the examination process. The questions in the assurance sheet can be varied according to the management team's desired focus on quality interventions.
Presentation of additional notices
If the applicant has responded to a notice issued by PRV but the patent examiner considers that an obstacle to the patent remains, it may be necessary to send the applicant a further notice. The patent examiner first presents the case to a patent expert, who gets an overview of the facts of the application and decides on the most appropriate action to proceed in the case.
Control of final notice
When the patent examiner considers that the application does not contain any obstacles to the patent, a final notice is issued. The final notice is always checked by a patent expert before it is executed. A specially designed form is used for checking the final notice. This form includes questions about the form and content of the control documents, i.e., the documents that form the basis of the patent specification. If the patent expert is not satisfied with its quality, the case is sent back to the patent examiner for action.
Presentation and assurance of rejections
If an application cannot be granted, the case is presented to the deciding patent expert, who decides on a rejection. If the rejection decision includes legal grounds for rejection, a lawyer is consulted. Once the rejection decision is complete, a check is carried out in the form of assuring the rejection decision. Assurance of the rejection decision must be carried out by a patent expert other than the one who decided the case. During assurance, a specially designed form is used with questions, whereby the assurance covers the entire decision except the substantive review.
Annual quality measurement of applied practice
Each year, the Council of Senior Patent Examiners carries out a random check of about 300 notices/reports (corresponding to about 3 per patent engineer), during which it examines how we comply with our regulations and applied practice when assessing a patent application. One focus has been to see how the Problem Solving Method is applied in the assessment of inventive step. Deficiencies are fed back directly to the patent examiners concerned and structural deficiencies identified lead to the review and possible modification of work instructions, guidelines and training materials. Additional training is also provided where needed. The results are presented to our customer groups at customer meetings.
Annual quality measurement of examination quality
A comparison of examination results between the EPO and the PRV is carried out annually. The comparison is based on national applications that have corresponding priority applications (EP/PCT-ISA) submitted to the EPO. A comparison is made of the documents adduced by each public authority and how they were assessed.
Parallel examination and re-examination
Parallel examination means that two engineers examine the same application independently and compare the results. Re-examination means that two engineers carry out examinations of the same application serially, i.e., an engineer bases a second examination on the results of another engineer’s prior examination. The aim of parallel and re-examinations is to broaden the skills of patent examiners by learning from each other. These types of quality measures are relatively resource-intensive and are therefore carried out on an ad hoc basis as permitted by space and need.
Time limit monitoring
Our service commitment regulates the time within which an applicant must receive a decision on his or her application. In order to ensure that we can meet the time limits promised in the service commitment, there is a continuous and regular monitoring of workload and late cases in each unit. The Head of Unit is responsible for ensuring that no cases are late. The reason why we do not have a 100% compliance with the stated deadlines is that in some cases it is not feasible to close cases within the adopted times limits. This may be because the applicant himself contributed to the long processing time by having the application withdrawn and reopened one or several times during the examination process. The deadlines may also be exceeded in the event of a temporary backlog of work.