IP Expert at Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk
Over the past few years, Intellectual Property Offices around the world have been busy preparing and negotiating Patent Prosecution Highways (PPH) agreements.
Better known by its abbreviation, the PPH is a system of bilateral and multilateral agreements particularly aimed at reducing the costs and time of patent examinations among applicants and participating patent offices. For doing so, the system enables an applicant with allowable/ granted claims in a patent application of an Office of Earlier Examination (OEE) to obtain an accelerated process examination of sufficiently corresponding claims in applications filed (but not yet examined) in other offices -Office of Later Examination (OLE)-.
It must, however, be noted that under PPH the OLE agrees to expedite the examination process by using the data and information provided by the OEE; but following the territoriality principle of patents, it reserves the right to grant or deny the patent.
In Latin America, two regional key networks have been created, namely, Pacific Alliance and PROSUR.
On July 1st, 2016 the PPH Pilot Program of the Pacific Alliance, made up of Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Peru, came into force. Some months later, on September 15th, the PPH Pilot Program of PROSUR, formed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, came into force. Nonetheless, Brazil adherence to the PPH was on December 19th, 2016, while the final entry into force of Ecuador still awaits the internal approval of its Government.
These Pilot Programs are expected to last 3 years, and renewable for an additional one. As we will see below, their implementation is carried out according to the guides prepared by the participating Industrial Property Offices, which establish the requirements, conditions and procedures to participate in the PPH Pilot Program.
For the purpose of giving certain flexibilities to the applicants, both networks decided to follow the “Mottainai” and the “PCT- PPH” modalities.
According to the PPH MOTTAINAI modality, an applicant can request to expedite its patent examination process at OLE using the results of the OEE, regardless of the office in which the first deposit occurs, provided that the OEE and OLE have signed a PPH MOTTAINAI agreement. By eliminating the directional requirement of the original PPH model, this alternative relaxes the requirements related to the order in which the applications were filed and the priority which they claimed.
Regarding the PCT- PPH, the OLE could utilize the positive results obtained in the PCT international phase to request accelerated processing in the national phase. In particular, in this modality OLE´s patent examiners can use the following work products:
- the written opinion of the International Searching Authority (ISA),
- the written opinion of the International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA), or
- the international preliminary examination report issued within the framework of the PCT, subject to certain conditions.
In this region, WIPO has designated INPI (Brazil) and INAPI (Chile) as ISA/IPEA offices. According to this, the country members of the Pacific Alliance and PROSUR may benefit from the international PCT work elaborated by those offices.
To get a closer look at the system, let’s now see how the Pacific Alliance PPH system has worked for the Mexican inventor Sergio Fernando Grijalva, who was the first applicant within the PPH of the Pacific Alliance in filing and obtaining a patent granted.
His application was filed on March 3rd, 2016 in the National Institute of Industrial Property (INAPI). Once the PPH was requested, it was necessary to check if the application met the requirements set in the INAPI- IMPI’s guide to participate, which are:
- The Chilean and the Mexican application must be equivalent, which means that they must have the same initial date, either the same priority date or the same filing date.
- The corresponding application must have been examined substantively and have one or more claims considered by IMPI as patentable/ allowable.
- All claims submitted for INAPI’S examination -as originally filed or as modified- must sufficiently correspond to one or more of the claims found patentable/ allowable by IMPI.
- The application filed before INAPI shall has been published in the Official Gazette.
- The substantive examination of the application of INAPI has not yet begun. In other words, the PPH must be requested before the examiner is appointed.
In the present case, the Mexican applicant was required to modify his application before INAPI as to make its claims sufficiently corresponding to the ones granted by IMPI. Thanks to this correction, the research and examination results done by IMPI could be used during INAPI´s patent prosecution.
As result of the prosecution of this patent by the PPH, the substantive examination process was executed in less than 3 months, which contributed to grant the patent in less than 12 months, rather than the 36 months that non-contentious patent application may take.
As we have seen, the existing PPH networks in Latin America can contribute effectively to speed up the substantive examination process of the participating offices, by avoiding the repetition of unnecessary administrative actions, while at the same time reduce related institutional and applicants’ costs. Moreover, and not previously mentioned, using these services do not, as a general rule, require additional fees.
For all of the reasons above mentioned, companies and inventors are encouraged to benefit from the existing PPH schemes. As for this purpose, if you are seeking patent protection internationally, you are highly recommended to verify the PPH agreements of those countries you are planning to expand your patent protection, as well as check out the modalities they adopted (i.e. “Mottainai” and “PCT- PPH”), as they can provide you an additional chance to successfully accomplish your patent registration in Latin America.