|It was soon apparent that the three Heads|
were in congenial agreement with one another
It was soon apparent that the Heads were not invited there in order to air their differences -- their peaceful messages of global harmonisation, cooperation and mutual respect could scarcely be mistaken for anything else. They spoke eloquently on the need to cut the pendency of patents in the pipeline, bust the backlog, generally build up trust and find ways of letting their examiners into each others' computer systems withou too much regard for hierarchies and passwords.
In answer to a question from this Kat about his beloved Peer-to-Patent experiment (currently running in the USA and Australia and, er, not quite in the UK), David Kappos described as "poppycock" the notion cherished by some European Patent Office examiners that the contribution of members of public towards the identification of significant prior art would result in the loss of their jobs, or of their promotion prospects. Despite having recruited 1,000 new examiners this year, there was no way that the USPTO could swiftly process the half a million applications they were expecting in 2011: "Peer-to-patent is not a substitute for examiners, but assists them", he emphasised -- and there would be no diminution of their sovereignty [Says Merpel, 'sovereignty' is an interesting choice of word, which actually reflects quite well the feeling one gets about certain patent-examining and granting offices]. The current US legislative bill would take Peer-to-patent within the USPTO, so that it could effectively orchestrate crowdsourcing within the system, without prejudice to any crowdsourcing that might be brought to bear outside it. As for the UK, "We're following in Dave's footsteps", John Alty said.
Managing Intellectual Property's James Nurton asked about the possibility of a global patent system and mutual recognition. "At this stage this would be A Bridge too Far", said David Kappos, displaying his erudition as a movie buff -- but it wasn't too too far. He also didn't say that the increasing use of bilateral agreements was not the consequence of a failure to achieve broader consensus, pointing out how useful they were in enhancing cooperation between offices and building trust. Agreements for Patent Prosecution Highways could also be broadened from bilateral to plurilateral in their scope, by the simple expedient of admitting more countries to them.
Finally, what did the team think of the need for more dialogue between patent-granting bodies on the one hand and patent-exploitation-regulating bodies on the other, such as competition authorities? Virtually painting an image of the lion lying down with the lamb and the little child playing by the viper's nest, David Kappos related how the USPTO had participated in the first ever conference with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission for exactly these purposes, as could be seen from the current USPTO guidelines on 35 US s.112, which he described as an "outgrowth" of this event. John Alty confirmed that the Hargreaves Review had been asked to look at the tension [the politically correct term is not tension, but 'interaction'. Thanks, John, for calling a spade a spade] between IP and competition law. Soon we shall know what it saw ...
At this point, no doubt correctly suspecting that the Kat had another 37 questions to ask, James Nurton thanked the Heads and graciously led them to safety and towards the smell of coffee.