Patents, which are the exclusive rights granted for creative ideas and innovative inventions, can be considered one of the driving forces behind technological innovation, industrial competitiveness, and economic growth. Paul Romer, an American economist at New York University and co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics, demonstrated through his life’s research that investment in technology encouraged by patents can bolster economies.
This is all the more evident in business settings. Across the world, many innovative companies have experienced accelerated growth based on their patents, namely Amazon and Uber from the US. Even the two top tech giants of Korea, Samsung and LG, are known to have consistently filed the most patent applications related to the “fourth industrial revolution” in Europe from 2011 to 2016.
The growing impact of patents on economies makes it increasingly critical to produce patents of high quality and secure protection. Former US President Barack Obama once emphasized that at the core of global competitiveness is “gold-plated patents,” which are patents that are economically valuable with much less vulnerability to court challenge. A recent US study showed that substandard patents that deter development and research or cause needless patent administration and litigations can result in deadweight economic losses that reach $25.5 billion annually.
Against this backdrop, the world’s five-largest patent offices, or the IP5 Offices -- the Korean Intellectual Property Office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the European Patent Office, the National Intellectual Property Administration, PRC, and the Japan Patent Office -- have strived to improve their patent examination system, so as to reduce substandard patents and improve patent quality. An increase in both the volume of searchable prior art and complexity of technologies have led the IP5 Offices to create various cooperation initiatives toward increasing examination efficiency and quality among IP offices.
Among them, three cooperation programs have been in active operation: the Collaborative Search Pilot Program was initiated to share search results during examination between partner offices; the Patent Prosecution Highway was launched to exchange examination results to provide accelerated examination services for users; and the PCT Collaborative Search & Examination was proposed to jointly conduct international searches for PCT applications of the participating offices.
Cheon Se-chang, director general of the Patent Examination Policy Bureau at the Korean Intellectual Property Office.
The intention of the IP5 Offices for these collaborative work programs was to increase the predictability of granting patents and raise consistency of examination outcomes for the same invention filed with multiple offices, as well as to ensure the fast grant of a patent to users. To date, we have seen successful operation and performance results from the programs.
Moreover, major IP offices are working to conduct various types of examination cooperation programs in line with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.
Emerging technologies that are characterized by superconnectivity and superintelligence, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and autonomous vehicle, are rapidly evolving. As a result, patent applications filed in technological fields of the fourth industrial revolution continue to increase. The EPO said the number of registered patents in such fields has gone up 12 times in six years, and KIPO saw an annual growth rate of 8.7 percent in patent applications related to the fourth industrial revolution. This ongoing shift in the patent landscape suggests that it is time to strengthen internal and external consultation during examination while also adjusting global examination cooperation accordingly.
The amount of patent applications filed in emerging countries, such as India, Brazil and some ASEAN nations, has increased more than 1.5 times over the past decade, coinciding with their growing gross domestic product. In response, a great deal of effort has been made to enhance examination capacity. Examination cooperation should reach beyond the IP5 Offices and expand to the emerging nations. Major IP offices need to provide support, particularly through examination cooperation, to produce strong and stable patents based on high-quality examination results, and ultimately, to stimulate innovation and economic growth.
The demands and needs of patent users require research before IP offices continue on to multilateral cooperation. In the era of the fourth industrial revolution, all nations recognize the importance of patent protection for innovation and stakeholders desire to have patent systems harmonized for obtaining IP rights.
With stable and consistent examination cooperation being maintained among countries, core technologies of businesses can be more promptly and indisputably protected in not only the IP5 countries but also in emerging nations with great industrial potential. This is the way for global examination cooperation to be promoted in the globalized world.
By Cheon Se-chang