For the first time in recent years, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) cleared its examination backlog in May. Cases that take longer than the IPO service requirements are called backlogs.
This comes after two of the busiest years in IPO history, when the agency received a record number of inquiries and requests for adjustments.
The elimination of backlogs has allowed IPO customers to benefit from faster service. Customer satisfaction with the timeliness of IPO service for patent examination has nearly doubled over the past three years, from 42% in 2019 to 75% in 2022.
In March 2022, IPO received an overall customer satisfaction score of 88%, which is one of the highest in the UK across all industries. It also exceeds the 85% target set by the Minister.
IPO CEO Tim Moss said:
With the hurdles we faced during Brexit and Covid-19, clearing our arrears was an important collective effort. To help us complete reviews faster, our employees have worked extremely hard and improved the systems. Now that the backlogs have been cleared, we can fully focus on our transformation goals.
The backlog of patent examinations
Over the past two decades, the patent examination backlog has steadily increased. Patent backlogs are those that have not been resolved for more than 42 months after filing.
The number of overdue patent examinations has fallen from 13,000 to zero over the past three years. The scope of the project is unique in the history of IPO. Last April, there were 6,007 patent cases pending, totaling 12,000,000 pages.
The backlog of trademarks and designs
There was also a considerable backlog of trademark and design applications in 2020 and 2021, due to three key factors:
1. The number of trademark applications has increased dramatically. Over the past five years, the number of national trademark applications has more than doubled, from around 65,000 to over 150,000 last year.
2. Since the UK left the European Union, customers now need to apply to UKIPO in order to benefit from UK protection; previously, consumers could go to the EUIPO and benefit from the protection of the United Kingdom.
3. The covid-19 epidemic has encouraged the creation of new businesses or the diversification of existing businesses.
At its peak in March 2021, the trademark backlog was 32,185 applications, with the examination process taking 35 days. Now that the backlog of trademarks has been cleared, the IPO is on track to meet its 10-day deadline for processing trademark applications.
Additionally, the IPO had a backlog of 9,507 design requests, with each file taking 32 days to process. This has also been resolved.
IP address book changes
The massive increase in IPO workload included changes to the IP registry, such as address changes. In 2021, the IPO received 80,000 more trademark and design change applications than in a typical year. This is a 335% increase in change request forms over the previous year, resulting in a change processing time of 33 days. The backlog has been eliminated.
How did the IPO help eliminate the backlog?
The IPO has made a big collective effort to clear the backlog, especially given the significant hurdles it has faced with Brexit and Covid-19. Their teams have improved systems so that exams can be completed more quickly.
To help clear up the patent backlog, various service enhancements have been made:
1. Patent reviews have been streamlined to focus on the most essential and relevant issues first, while taking into account legal obligations and customer concerns. Not only has this accelerated the IPO, but it also benefits clients by providing them with more concise and unambiguous advice on the topics that matter most to them.
2. “Technology clusters” have been created so that work on various topics (such as measuring devices or automobiles) can be shared by a larger group of people. This allows IPO to focus its resources on where demand is highest at any given time.
3. The IPO changed the way applications were processed so that lay workers could assist examiners in the early processing of applications.
Given the recent increase in trademark and design applications, the IPO has had to hire a large number of examiners to meet the demand for their services.
The team, on the other hand, has:
1. Invested in better trade mark and design forecasting, allowing the IPO to better manage resources and become more flexible in order to meet demand.
2. Completed a comprehensive review of our procedures, increasing productivity by revamping our workflow, implementing new training methods and continuing to fine-tune IPO systems.
What happens afterwards?
Clearing our backlogs is a great way to prepare for the next steps of going public as a business. The new patent department is expected to be launched within two years, as part of the One IPO transformation program. It will be easier to transition customers to our new digital offerings if we start from scratch.
Improved and faster services for IPO clients and employees will allow them to handle huge volumes of work faster and easier, reducing the likelihood of future backlogs.
So now that the backlogs have been cleared, the future looks bright.