By Abdallah Al Mazroa, Patent Consultant, GCC Patent Office, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Patent Office of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC PO) continues to advance its ambitious plans to offer its clients a reliable, high-quality, fast-track means of obtaining patent rights.
Unlike other intellectual property (IP) offices in the region, the GCC PO undertakes full formal and substantive examination of patent applications in line with international standards. The office further enhanced its service offerings in March 2016 with the adoption of more streamlined and efficient patent grant procedures.
Following the enactment of the GCC Patent Law in 1992, the GCC PO grants patents under a unitary system, meaning the patents it grants are valid in all GCC member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).
Since the first GCC patent application was submitted on October 3, 1998, some 38,000 patent applications have been filed with the office. The aim now is to encourage even greater use of the GCC Patent System by applicants both within the region and beyond.
Prior to March 2016, the GCC PO’s patent grant process involved broad consultation among the IP authorities of GCC member states. Batches of examined patent applications deemed patentable by the GCC PO were sent to the IP authorities of each member state for substantive comment. In the event that a national IP authority objected to a proposed patent grant, they were required to inform the GCC PO within 45 days.
Thousands of patent applications were circulated to GCC member states under this procedure. However, only very few applications raised comments or objections.
When objections were made, a bilateral negotiation to overcome the objection would take place between the GCC PO and the national IP authority concerned. This often led to amendment of the claims, as well as to clarification of and corrections to bibliographic and priority data, following consultations with the applicant, as required.
If no comments or objections were received within the 45-day period, the GCC PO issued the grant decision, and, upon payment of the relevant fees by the applicant, the office would publish the full specification of the granted patent on its website.
If there were no objections from third parties within a period of three months from the date of publication (per Article 11 of the GCC Patent Law), the GCC PO delivered the granted letters of patent to the applicant.
The current GCC patent law, as amended in November 1999, does not provide for the possibility of a third party to challenge the granted patent. In practice, however, it is possible for any third party to challenge a patent issued by the GCC PO at any time by submitting a claim to the GCC PO’s Grievance Committee. That committee is made up of 12 members drawn from the relevant national authorities in GCC member states. Any decision by that committee may be appealed before the Grievance Court of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the GCC Patent Law, is the competent authority for dealing with such matters.
Under the new patent grant procedure, the lengthy patent grant consultation mechanism outlined above has been abolished.
At a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in March 2016, the GCC PO’s Board of Directors unanimously agreed to introduce a more streamlined patent grant procedure, noting that no legal obligation had been written into the GCC Patent Laws of 1992, 1999, or indeed the final draft of the new GCC Patent Law, to provide the patent offices of GCC member states with the possibility to raise objections to the GCC PO’s patent grant decisions.
The new procedure is built around a fully automated system developed in-house by the GCC PO. The new procedure, which includes an online system for filing patent applications, has significantly reduced the time required to process patent applications and has been widely welcomed by patent applicants.
Further enhancements are planned in 2019, particularly in terms of collaborating with international partners to build the GCC PO’s expertise and capacity in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and big data, and to better understand the impact of these emerging technologies on the IP system. This will ensure that the GCC PO keeps pace with new developments in these areas and is able to leverage these technologies to further enhance its services.
The economic importance of the GCC member states, their role in international business, and their drive to invest in research, development and innovation, promises to fuel demand for patent rights in the region. The steps taken by the GCC PO mean that businesses at home and abroad now have access to an efficient, reliable and cost-effective unitary patent system covering the six important economies of the region.
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