THE ECONOMIC expansion of North Asia is further stressing an already stretched intellectual property system, with agencies fearing business will just bypass the queues and work outside the system.
Even when they do make it to the top of the queue, some businesses complain they’re finding, nevertheless, that the design for their new product may have become widely available before it is enforceable.
“We tell you about the invention, and you give us a monopoly, but [as soon as I submit a patent application] I tell the whole world about my invention. Is that a good deal for me?”, one businessman asked a panel of IP agency heads at a recent APEC IP conference in Sydney.
“You have to go further and put in applications in national jurisdictions where you get a restrictive monopoly in time,” he said. “But that information is still disseminated throughout the world [first].”
A recent meeting of worldwide IP agencies, including heads of the European Patent Office, the US Patent and Trademarks Office and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, all acknowledged that the delays in the system were getting to a critical stage.
We are looking at a world where we’ve got huge [numbers] of patents waiting for anybody to just open the wretched document,” said Alison Brimelow, president-elect of the European Patent Office. “It enables a lot of people to play what I call rich man’s poker, which is ‘My stack of 500 [patent applications] is probably just as good as your stack of 600, shall we do a deal?’”.
Others say that even when IP rights are acquired, they remain far too costly to enforce.
“I think what the Australian legal profession and patent profession and governments have to do is review the systems around the world ... and come up with a best practice system that is quicker and cheaper,” says Anthony Ward, president of the Australian Institute of Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys.
Various practical measures are now being put in place to streamline a slow system which is expensive to enforce, but ultimately many would like to see a single application that protects intellectual property rights worldwide, wherever they happen to be lodged.
Given the notorious difficulty in obtaining internationally agreed standards, however, most are unwilling to commit to when that will occur, but Francis Gurry, deputy director-general of WIPO believes some form of legal harmonisation must eventually be put in place.
“I think that it’s not only possible, but probably necessary that we will say, in the next 25 years, there must be some globalised procedure,” he told the Trading Ideas conference in Sydney.
He says there could be a single application, and a single “procedure for dealing with the application”, but it would then pass on to a national or regional level for a final decision in that jurisdiction.