Patent E-Filing System: Backed Up by Training

2010/06/15,By Zhang Bing,China IP,[Patent]

Going Online
“In the short foreseeable future, the number of e-filings will make a significant breakthrough and the percentage of e-filings is expected to near or reach an advanced international level,” a patent examiner from the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) told our journalist on April 12, 2010. “At the same time, our working styles will also change, making it possible to accomplish patent examination by working completely online.”
Before that happens, all paper application documents, when arriving at SIPO, have to be scanned and identified before being made available
in the form of graphics what are primarily texts; a significant workload burden on the SIPO which increases the potential for making errors, decreases the ability to search for patent documents, and is an extra burden on the SIPO website. Now, patent examiners are able to use computers to complete the whole procedure.
By having the China Patent Electronic Examination System (“e-Filing” System) officially operational online as of February 10, 2010, China has entered the “e-era” for completely paperless patent examinations, following the United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe.
After two months of operation, the e-filing system has run smoothly and been in a good condition. On April 12, our journalist visited and found that a notice and important notes were published on the website’s homepage, along with a questionnaire to solicit users’ feedback on the use of the system to improve services to both patent examiners and patent applicants.
This is not just for “low-carbon.” With the advent of the information age, e-filing has been the mainstream trend in international patent practice because of its advantages of being convenient, expeditious, environment friendly and cost-effective. The degree of development in e–filing has become an important indicator in measuring informationization level of patent reviews in a country.
Some experts commented that the online operations of e-filing-system has overhauled the working patterns in China’s patent examination. Examiners have bidden farewell to the 25 years of examination on paper, and stridden into the paperless “e-Era.” Patent applicants can also make full use of the newly upgraded e-filing system to file patent applications in an expeditious manner.
It is learned that the e-filing system aims at integrating patent applications, flow management, examinations, publication, review, invalidation, searches, management and statistics, and to realize a whole-process and full-range digitalization and networking of all legal proceedings from filing to expiration.
In fact, patent examination is a process of reviewing and amending patent application documents, a relative simple networking office environment, with clearly defined procedure. Once it is fully digitized, it will further facilitate the reviewing and amending of patent documents. Patent examiners will be able to get rid of workplace restrictions, and the SIPO even can recruit patent examiners outside of Beijing to enhance efficiency and reduce costs.
However, e-filing has, after all, changed the working habits of patent agents, thereby giving rise to a lot of confusion. For example, many patent agents discussed the launch of the e-filing in the Biopatent forum. Someone posted a question about the patent process and formalities in the e-filing system. Some replied that e-filing was not good to use and was less convenient than paper submissions, particularly for PCT applications entering into the national phase. Others said that the restrictions on image sizes were too stringent. On the website of China’s e-filing, there were 587 inquiries displayed in the online inquiry section, however, our journalist failed to discover any replies before the closing of this article.
All of this is not simply due to the fact that it takes time for people to adapt new things. The e-filing platform of SIPO has been in operation since 2003, lasting for more than seven years, and a number of patent applicants and agents have been trained to qualify in completing e-filing. However, the latest statistics show that in 2009 SIPO handled 64,809 applications through e-filings, three times the 14,288 e-filings in 2008, but that accounts for only 7% of the total patent filings for the whole year.
How to file application documents correctly has been more or less a stumbling block. Patent agencies with consistent high volume patent filings may want to consider adopting the e-filing procedure to increase efficiency; but for many patent applicants who are not engaged in a large number of patent applications, such an investment would seem like a luxury.
“I think some processing procedures are relatively complex or too cumbersome, and not easy to use, particularly for ordinary patent applicants,” said a patent agent who preferred to be anonymous, “and this has been a new challenge to the SIPO.”
Hu Wenhui, Deputy Director-General of the Preliminary Examination and Flow Management Department under the SIPO, said the new e-filing system has improved and optimized its functions, services and other aspects. The use of e-filings for patent applications can not only save energy and reduce costs, but is also capable of shortening the examination process.
Hu Wenhui also said that the new system has increased the methods available for user-registration. Previously the only way to register was for an applicant or agent to personally go to the SIPO office and do so in person. This has now been optimized to include four ways to register, namely registration at the Patent Office, agencies, via mail and online. This has made it more convenient for applicants nationwide to choose the method most appropriate for their needs.
Another great feature of the new system is the variety of file formats which can be submitted in electronic applications. The new formats acceptable to the SIPO include PDF, WORD and others. Applicants may choose to edit and submit required files in XML format via the client editor program, or submit files in PDF, WORD and other formats directly before the SIPO. In addition, the new system will open short message services (SMS). Applicants, based on their individual needs, can subscribe to personalized SMS for free to receive relevant information in a timely manner. The contents of the reminders mainly include the title of notifications, application numbers and notices regarding important dates.
The journalist has made a comparison between procedures of paper and electronic filings of patent applications on the existing examination system. The former includes such procedures as data collection, document scanning and bar-coding, and the paper applications should be mailed or personally delivered before entering the examination process. In contrast, application documents in XML format submitted online don’t need to go through the above mentioned procedures and go directly to the subsequent examination process. In addition, once the system confirms that the filing has met the automatic filing requirements, the application is e-filed. That means the system will automatically generate a filing receipt, and a debit note for fees due or reduction. Therefore, the applicant or agent is able to receive various official notices and decisions on the same day, so that the communication between the SIPO and users becomes more efficient and smooth.
Before the E-System went online, the Preliminary Examination and Flow Management Department under the SIPO invited more than 20 agencies to participate in the system debugging, and made adjustments in a timely manner based on feedback from debugging users. Developers of the electronic application system and patent examiners also provided onsite guidance to patent offices and answered many questions from the agents. One week before the formal launch of the system, personnel with the Preliminary Examination and Flow Management Department sent system upgrade notices to electronic application users and informed them of important notices about the upgrade.
At present, the Preliminary Examination and Flow Management Department is planning a national tour of publicity and training to enable more agents and applicants to learn how to use the electronic application system. Hu Wenhui said: “Promotion and publicity of the electronic application system are important parts in examinations by the SIPO this year. Our department has developed different training programs according to different requirements of users and agencies in different regions, and will launch a series of system training activities across the country in a bid to expedite the promotion and use of electronic applications.”

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