HM Treasury commissioned former Financial Times Editor Andrew Gowers to review the UK's intellectual property laws. Two of the recommendations in his December 2006 report focussed on the speed at which patents and trade marks are processed and granted.
Gowers acknowledged an existing fast-track process for patents. The process is limited, though, and little used. It allows for accelerated search and/or examination. But patent applicants must give "adequate reasons" for using this fast-track service and the UKIPO's criteria for approving or rejecting such requests are unclear.
The UKIPO advocates a new accelerated grant process that would be open to all applicants on payment of a premium of between £300 and £600. It envisages that a typical application could be granted in under a year under the proposed fast-track process, compared with two-to-three years for a typical application under the current, non-accelerated system.
For trade marks there is currently no form of accelerated examination offered by the UKIPO. Applications are simply examined in the order in which they are received. Again, Gowers recommended a fast-track service for a premium fee. "In today’s fast moving business environment products are regularly launched within short timescales," said the Gowers Review.
The UKIPO proposes a new system which will enable trade mark applicants to request examination within 10 business days as opposed to the 4–6 week timescale a standard application can take currently.
The current application fees for a trade mark are £200 for an application (covering one trade mark 'class') and a fee of £50 for each additional class requested. For a fast-track application the UKIPO is proposing a fee of £500 for the application (covering one class); the cost for an additional class will remain at £50.
Lee Curtis, a trade mark attorney with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the accelerated trade mark procedure will not accelerate the process significantly.
"At present the trade mark process can take from six months to a few years," said Curtis. "This proposal only shaves a few weeks off that total period."
Curtis said that UK trade mark applications usually get examined in around 6 to 8 weeks and the UKIPO has already said that it aims to examine applications within one month from October. "The new proposals simply mean that, for an extra payment of £300, an application will be guaranteed to be examined in 10 days of filing," he said.
"I'm not sure how attractive that will be because the applications still have to go through the three-month advertisement period and other steps," he said. "It's good to have an option for a faster system, but this is not a radical plan by any means."
The deadline for responses to the consultation is 14th December 2007.