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From creating a manga version of patent examination guidelines to easing applications without a patent attorney, the heads of five major IP offices share their strategies to spur innovation while fostering collaboration

The World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) report in February showed a record 277,500 international patents were filed in 2021, despite a global downturn. Asia accounted for more than half of the international patent applications made under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT).

WIPO’s Executive Summary PCT Yearly Review 2022 highlighted China as the largest user of the PCT, with 69,540 international patent applications. The US came second with 59,570 applications, followed by Japan and South Korea with 50,260 and 20,678, respectively.

Computer technology dominated filings from China and the US, while electrical machinery was the top technology field submitted by applicants from Japan. South Korea’s applications focused on patents related to digital communications. Such trends indicate the resilient IP sector and ecosystem, which is necessary for innovation.

Driven by cutting-edge technologies, opportunities lie ahead for innovators and entrepreneurs that are able to leverage their IP and intangible assets. This was among the areas of mutual understanding shared by five IP office leaders from the US and Asia during the IP Week @ SG 2022 held in September by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

The plenary saw IP leaders share their experiences from promoting collaboration to utilising diverse IP assets and introducing new ways to drive innovation, address climate challenges, and have an impact on society. The discussion also touched on how enterprises can work together in a global economy to chart the future with IP in a technology-driven world.

Predictability and sustainability

Improving the predictability in IP examination of emerging technologies and contributing to solving social issues through IP utilisation are focuses of Koichi Hamano, commissioner of the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

“The primary role of an IP office is to contribute to the creation of innovation by granting appropriate patent rights through a prompt and accurate examination,” said Hamano. “To this end, improving the predictability of examinations is crucial for the stable development of technology and execution of patent rights by the applicant.”

The JPO considers it possible to improve predictability in examining increasingly complex emerging technologies, and it has prepared more than 30 examination case examples on AI-related technologies and published them in Japanese and English.

These cases are expected to help improve the predictability of examinations in the area of AI-related technologies by qualifying points for judging description requirements and inventive steps. Previously, the JPO has prepared and published the examination guidelines, including the contents regarding AI and the internet of things (IoT). However, if the number of people using these guidelines is limited due to their specialised content, such guidelines will not be effective enough.

“The JPO has created the manga version of the examination guidelines regarding AI and IoT to make it easier for more people to understand the basic concepts of examination,” says Hamano. “The JPO has also prepared additional foreign-language versions to make this resource accessible for people around the world. It is now available not only in English but also in Thai and Vietnamese.”

AI-related technology has been rapidly integrating with various fields, and their complexity has been further growing. To conduct examinations accordingly, Hamano said the JPO must not only understand the standard of AI-related technologies but also grasp the status of AI applications. Co-ordination with other technical fields overseen by individual examination divisions has become increasingly important.

Last year, the JPO established the AI examinations support team, which is responsible for improving the examination for AI-related inventions. The team collaborates beyond technical fields and is in charge of accumulation and sharing of knowledge on examination cases of the latest AI-related technologies, and reviewing related patent examination measures.

“The AI manager serves as a hub for the examination of AI-related inventions, consolidates knowledge of the various examination departments, and provides consultations to examiners outside the AI examinations support team,” said Hamano. “Throughout this process, the AI manager supports the realisation of efficient, high-quality examinations.”

As more companies are operating globally, Hamano said that it is crucial to create an environment where patent rights can be obtained with predictability, not only in Japan but in other countries. Therefore, the JPO has been considering comparative studies with IP offices in Asean and IP5, a forum of the five largest IP offices (the United States Patent and
Trademark Office, the European Patent Office, the JPO, the Korean IP Office, and the China National IP Administration).

Hamano said the future can be envisioned by solving social issues through IP utilisation. Companies nowadays are expected to drive green transformation, where they objectively illustrate how they provide value that contributes to economic and social transformation in solving climate change issues.

“To measure what companies have achieved, we could analyse the patent information provided by various companies around the world and identify the position of their technologies that can be used for green transformation,” said Hamano. “This analysis would be helpful in plotting business strategies.”

Therefore, the JPO has published green transformation technologies inventory, a technology inventory that gives a comprehensive bird’s eye view of green transformation technologies and searches for patent documents that disclose green transformation technologies.

The JPO also plans to conduct a study of the patent application filing for each green transformation technology to obtain a bigger picture of such technologies. The report is scheduled to be published around April or May of 2023.

Versatile properties

Shen Changyu, commissioner of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), believes in the potential of IP as a stimulus for innovation and development, to speed up technology transfer and knowledge sharing and work towards stronger, greener, healthier and more sustainable development.

“We should improve human health through IP and jointly resolve the public health crisis,” said Shen. “Covid-19 is still raging around the world posing a serious threat to the lives, health and safety of people.”

Shen noted that the IP system should be used to stimulate innovation, boost research and development of related drugs as well as diagnosis and treatment, and promote technology transfer and dissemination to better protect public health.

“Secondly, we should support the utilisation of clean energy through IP to better tackle the challenges of climate change,” said Shen. “In recent years, the rapidly changing global climate has posed daunting challenges to the sustainable development of humanity.”

IP protection should be improved for green and low-carbon technologies, and to promote the invention, creation and commercialisation of green technologies, support the green and low-carbon transformation of industries, and provide advanced technologies to tackle climate change.

“Thirdly, we should promote the development of regional characteristic industries through IP and effectively support poverty reduction and alleviation,” said Shen. “IP matters for the well-being of the people.”

To make people empowered to use IP rights to boost production, get out of poverty, create wealth and live a better life, Shen said IP offices should give full play to the unique advantages of IP, and take vigorous steps to support agriculture with patented technologies. This will benefit farmers with trademarks and branding and facilitate rural development with geographical indications.

Last year, China issued the Outline for Boosting China’s Competitiveness in the Area of IP (2021-2035), and the National Plan for the Protection and Application of IP Rights during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. These measures demonstrated China’s determination to continually strengthen IP protection, promote innovation-driven development, and create a better business and innovation environment , he said.

In response to the pandemic, Shen said that China had provided more than 2.2 billion doses of vaccines to 120 countries and international organisations as of June 2022. It had also successively transferred technologies to more than 20 countries for co-operation in the production of vaccines, creating an overseas covid-19 vaccine production capacity of 1 billion doses per year.

Utilising IP for social impact, Shen shared a story about “two golden leaves” from Sangzhi county in Hunan. In 1994, the CNIPA began its targeted poverty alleviation efforts in Sangzhi and worked together with the local government to create the two golden leaves, Sangzhi reed leaf and Sangzhi white tea.

With the help of trademarks and geographical indications, Sangzhi now has become the world’s largest production base of reed leaves, selling products to more than 20 provinces and cities across China and overseas, including the US, Japan and Singapore. This effort has lifted nearly 100,000 local people out of poverty.

“After attaining the geographical indications for Sangzhi white tea, the sales volume has multiplied,” said Shen. “Local farmers said that the products that have trademarks or geographical indications are like persons with residence registration and ID cards, which means [they are] more likely to be accepted by others and more saleable.”

Innovation to impact

Kathi Vidal, undersecretary of commerce for IP and director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), believes the power of IP to incentivise innovation matters the most for world problem-solving, and to have a meaningful impact on society.

“If the pandemic and increased IP filings taught us anything, it is that innovators and entrepreneurs are everywhere,” said Vidal. “We must work together to share ways in which we are empowering all of the world’s future innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Specifically, Vidal said that the USPTO aimed to give more support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and those that had traditionally lacked access to the innovation ecosystem. Some of these initiatives include an innovation internship programme, a first-time-filer expedited examination petition, expansion of free legal services to new innovators, and community outreach and educational campaigns.

Vidal cited the USPTO report, IP and the US economy: Third edition, issued in March, which found IP-intensive industries account for 41% of the US economy and that many of the businesses operating in those industries are SMEs. It is also well documented that startups with patents are far more successful than those without them.

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