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International patent harmonisation effort wants your input

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While Barack Obama frets about patent law and trolls attack even helpful government e-health initiatives, IP experts around the world are quietly working on something that might just help: a survey!

Not just any survey, mind. This one was created by Tegernsee Experts Group, an entity composed of representatives from patent offices in Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the USA. The European Patent Office is playing, too, and other patent offices like Australia's are watching the group's proceedings closely and urging locals to participate.

So what is the Tegernsee Experts Group? The name is derived from the Bavarian town where in July 2011 patent offices got together to talk about patent law harmonisation. The group met again in 2012 and resolved to tackle four issues outlined by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The four, as defined by that agency, are:

  • Grace periods , also known as “non-prejudicial disclosures that define “time before the date of filing a patent application for an invention during which certain kinds of disclosure of the invention would be deemed as not destroying the novelty of the invention.” (PDF with details)
  • Publication of applications. Many jurisdictions publish a patent application 18 months after it is lodged.. That period is “thought to represent a reasonable period of time after filing of the application for the inventor to make an assessment whether to continue prosecution of the application or to withdraw or abandon it” and also “a reasonable period of time for third parties to wait to obtain information about a new technology.” (PDF)
  • Treatment of conflicting applications, an issue that arises because different nations treat prior art differently. In most nations “the state of the art is defined as anything made available to the public in any way, anywhere in the world, prior to the critical date of the priority or filing date” Another facet of this issue is “how to deal with applications containing relevant subject-matter which were filed prior to the filing or priority date of the application being examined, although published later”. (PDF)
  • Prior user rights, which deal with the right of a third party to continue the use of an invention where that use began before a patent application was filed for the same invention. (PDF)

Of the four issues under examination at this point, reform to prior user rights seems an obvious method of reducing some of the trolling activity often reported in these pages.

Completing the questionnaire – which has 73 questions and takes around an hour – is not guaranteed to make such laws more sane, as the Tegenersee Experts Group has a mandate for harmonization, not reform. But perhaps a flood of opinion will encourage the group to pick the least-bad of its members laws as the model for others to follow. ®

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