If you have an invention in the field of biotechnology, you should consider filing a UK patent application first. It could save you money on search fees, and give you an idea of patentability in Europe without even filing a European patent application.
UK co-operation with Europe
Biotechnology-related applications have been accumulating at the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) for some time, partly due to a lack of suitably qualified examiners.
The UK IPO has invested in recruiting and training new examiners, according to their press release, but it will take time for those examiners to become fully proficient at what they do. This is expected to remain the case until sometime in 2019, based on a letter in March 2018 from the UK IPO to the EPO (see Annex 1).
In the meantime, the UK IPO has established an agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO), which came into force on 1st July 2018. The agreement will see some biotechnology applications sent over to the EPO for an official search. The first batch of applications to be searched was sent to the EPO in November 2018.
How could this benefit you?
The official search fee for a UK patent application is normally £150 (GBP). The official search fee for a patent application filed at the EPO is normally €1300 (EUR). The UK IPO will decide which applications get sent to the EPO for a search, and this is expected to be around 200 to 300 applications per year. If you’re lucky, your UK patent application might be one of the ones searched by the EPO, seemingly without the need to pay the much higher European search fee.
In addition, if you later file an equivalent application at the EPO which claims priority to a UK application searched by the EPO, the EPO search fee will be partly or fully refunded. Details of the exact level of the refund vary – see the EPO Official Journal of January 2019 for further information.
Is it worth patenting in the UK first?
It may be a bit of a lottery as to whether your application will be searched by the EPO. However, if it is sent to the EPO for searching, then you may get a direct indication of patentability in Europe before incurring costs for filing a European patent application. Similarly, for a PCT application which has not been searched by the EPO, entering the UK national phase early could be a good strategic move, since you may get an EPO search before you decide whether to incur significant costs for European regional phase entry.
Even if you are certain to file in Europe, filing a UK patent application first might still be a good idea, if the EPO-sourced search report includes the usual written opinion. This could be very valuable indeed, particularly if there are objections to sufficiency or plausibility which can be difficult to resolve after filing. Instead, you may get advance knowledge of potential problems and be able to pre-emptively update the patent specification before you file in Europe.
If you’d like further advice on patents or any other aspect of intellectual property protection or enforcement, please contact us to speak with one of our qualified attorneys.