24 February 2014

Fast track examination of trade marks - UK

The UK Intellectual Property Office is seeking views on whether there is a need to reintroduce the fast track examination procedure (perhaps - or perhaps not - inspired by the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton in Sochi).

With examination of UK trade mark applications usually taking less than a month, many will ask, "What would be the point?". I feel they would be justified in making such comments.

I can think of a number of things the IPO could improve on (better electronic communications, on-line applications for International applications, etc.) that I feel should be greater priority. Needless to say, these are personal thoughts and may not be shared among other users of the IPO.

I have nonetheless filed submissions to the consultation. If you would also like to respond then you have until 15 April 2014 and make sure it's by 11.45pm (British time).

My response is self-explanatory and repeated below:

I am responding to your consultation regarding the 'Fast Track Examination of Trade Marks'.

It is appreciated that there are circumstances when more speedy (than 'standard') registration is preferable, for example, businesses needing shorter timescales for product launch, legal proceedings, etc.

I believe applicants would be prepared to pay a premium to obtain quicker registration times. The amount proposed is not much in the scale of things if an applicant finds themselves in a scenario where speedier registration is required.

However, Fast Track examination is not cutting significant time from the time from filing to registration because of, notably, the two-month opposition period. Obviously, this is not a period of time that can be moved (without a notable legislative change).

Clearly, Fast Track examination does not guarantee acceptance and does not ensure oppositions will not be filed. In the event of objections or oppositions, these would likely mean a Fast Track application would take longer than a smooth standard application.

With examination periods for standard applications (and also 'Right Start' applications, it can be added) of 20 days or less, how much time would a Fast Track application shave off the whole process?

I would not envisage an uptake of a new Fast Track examination procedure in any greater numbers than from when the scheme ran between 2008-2009.

I make some suggestions to your proposals that may see a greater uptake of Fast Track applications and ensure it provides greater value for money:

1. Applications must be made on-line.

2. Examination by the end of the next working day

This would really put the "Fast" into Fast Track. If necessary, take Examiners from standard applications to fulfil significant demand for Fast Track on a given day.

A "Money Back Guarantee" or compensation scheme should be available when this is not fulfilled.

2. Mandate the use of accepted TMclass terms

This will help enable examination to be completed within the timescale above.

3. Auto-notification of prior rights

Searches can still be performed but, where no other issues have arisen and the application is otherwise accepted, the application should proceed proactively to advertisement. Owners of prior rights, as applicable (e.g. owners of UK marks but not Community Trade Marks), can be notified automatically.

If necessary, put in place a 'Warning Box' to applicants advising them of this if they choose the Fast Track option.

4. Daily publication of the Trade Marks Journal

Under the current suggestion, an application could be made on a Friday, examined and accepted by the following Friday and then still take another week until advertisement in the Trade Marks Journal. That is not fast tracking, in my view.

A daily publication would help ensure a process is truly Fast Track. If necessary, Monday-Thursday Trade Marks Journals only need contain Fast Track applications and the regular Trade Marks Journal can be continued on Fridays only.

5. Registration issued quickly - online notification

The period from the end of an opposition period to actual registration should be improved under Fast Track.

Currently, an application published on 6 December 2013 - therefore with an opposition period running until 6 February 2014 - is scheduled for registration on 21 February 2014. This is over two weeks following the expiration of the opposition period.

For Fast Track applications at least, registration should be completed within, say, two days of the expiration of the opposition period (or other reasonable time required for the Office to process oppositions). Fast Track applicants could also be sent online notification of registration pending receipt of the physical Certificate of Registration. You could also consider sending Fast Track applicants their Certificates of Registration by guaranteed next day post (UK applicants/representatives only).

In conclusion of the above, I think it is misguided to only look at the examination aspect of a Fast Track process. Fast Track publication and Fast Track notification of registration need to be put in place too. The current resources and operations of the Intellectual Property Office may not be geared up to manage this, and making changes to accommodate Fast Track may only be justified if there is significant take-up of Fast Track examinations. Amendments to the Trade Mark Rules may also need to be made which is an added burden.

I would stress that even with the adoption of the above suggestions that, due to the opposition period and the current examination period for standard applications, that the time shaved off in a Fast Track application is still going to be fairly negligible overall, perhaps at best one month. I could anticipate that the uptake of the Fast Track process will not be significant. However, it is appreciated that the Intellectual Property Office are committed to providing a high quality service and its introduction could be useful to applicants that find themselves needing registration more quickly.

It is felt that a standard examination period of under one month is perfectly acceptable in standard cases and matches or beats the performance of most of your counterparts in Europe and the Rest of the World.

Comparing to some other countries with expedited/accelerated examination, Australia does not make additional charges for expedited examination. However, applicants must submit a witnessed declaration detailing the reasons for the request. I feel, if there is going to be a Fast Track option available, that a fee-paying Fast Track approach is better, one where the applicant justifies use of this route and not an Intellectual Property Office.

Switzerland charges 400 CHF extra for expedited examination, cheaper than the 550 CHF basic fee. The Benelux charges €193 extra for fast registration (for 1-3 three classes), again cheaper than the €240 basic fee. Although I feel the £300 proposed additional fee for Fast Track is fare, you may find it useful to benchmark with fellow Intellectual Property Offices, particularly in Europe, also to get a wider picture of uptake and perceived value, as it may paint a similar picture to what could happen for the UK.

I hope these comments are useful.