HC Deb 22 March 2001 vol 365 cc308-10W
Mr. Borrow

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what targets he has set the Department' s executive agency, the Patent Office, for 2001–02. [155546]

Mr. Alan Johnson

I have set the Patent Office the following targets for 2001–02:


1. To increase performance year on year so that 90 per cent. of search reports are issued within six months of request by 2005–06.

2. To grant 90 per cent. of patents within three years of request.


3. To register 90 per cent. of designs within 9 months of application.

Trade Marks

4. To register 90 per cent. of processed trade mark class applications, to which no substantive objections are raised or oppositions filed within nine months of application.

5. To achieve by the end of the year a reduction of eight weeks in the average time taken to issue a decision in a trade mark dispute once the case is ready.


6. To publish details of progress towards key milestones in UK and International policy development in the Annual Report and on our website.

Efficiency Targets

7. To increase output in relation to current expenditure by an average of at least 2 per cent. per annum over the period 1998–99 to 2002–03.

In addition to these key targets:


The Office will pay 100 per cent. of bills within 30 days of receipt of goods or services or a valid invoice, whichever is the later.

Questions delegated to the Chief Executive

The Chief Executive will reply within 10 working days to all letters from Members of Parliament delegated to her for reply.

Mr. Gareth Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the second stage of the quinquennial review of the Patent Office will be completed; and if he will make a statement. [155542]

Mr. Alan Johnson

The second stage of the five-yearly review of the Patent Office has now been completed. The Patent Office has a key role to play as a driver in the knowledge economy.

I am pleased to say that the review found the Patent Office has achieved a remarkable transformation over the last decade and is now extremely customer focused and responsive. The Office's patent granting and other registration functions are well regarded and compare favourably with those of other IPR Offices. Indeed on trade marks, the review found that the Office was thought to be one of the best in the world.

The Patent Office's role has to be seen in an international context, which is evolving. Trade is becoming increasingly international and intellectual property protection has to reflect this . The Patent Office is in the forefront in initiating and promoting development of the international systems. The European Community and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) have both embarked on substantial programmes to achieve harmonisation and there is significant work in progress in the EU in areas such as the proposed Community Patent. The review concludes that the Offices should work to make the international routes for patent granting—which SMEs as well as larger companies need—cheaper, faster and more accessible and to reduce duplication of work. There is also a growing need to ensure that copyright can be protected and enforced on an international basis.

The Patent Office has an important part to play in fostering innovation and encouraging technological transfer. The review finds that more could be done to help ensure that inventions achieve successful commercial exploitation. It suggests that the Patent Office should work with the Small Business Service to help small businesses in this respect, such as by helping to match inventors with business partners. This would complement the wider activities of my Department in support of innovation and the knowledge economy.

IT has great strategic and financial importance for the Office. The Office has made good progress in introducing electronic services and a significant farther programme is in train.

The Office needs objectives and targets appropriate to this agenda of internationalisation and effective help for small business, allowing delivery through e-communication channels wherever possible.

The demand for patents is outstripping the ability of Patent Offices to deliver, both internationally and in the UK. Reducing duplication of work between offices is thus all the more important. The Patent Office has a wide programme to try to ensure that scarce examiner resource is used to best effect. The report makes recommendations about recruitment strategies for patent examiners, flexible working schemes, training and use of examiners as well as pay.

Obtaining IP rights is only part of the story: small business made clear that effective enforcement of rights is crucial to their value and they found that effective enforcement could be both difficult and costly. The report recommends that the Patent Office should work with others to develop alternative dispute resolution procedures and to help facilitate the greater use of insurance in this field. It could also usefully extend its work to improve awareness of the range of intellectual property rights and how to enforce them. On trade marks and copyright significant action to assist enforcement is already in hand. The report recommends that the Office should consider further streamlining its procedure for handling trade mark oppositions.

The report looks at the Office's use of contractors. It finds that in the case of the London Front Office, there have been gains in terms of cost and efficiency, but the option of bringing the function back in-house should be appraised before a decision is taken whether to continue with contracting out. In the case of accommodation services, the report finds that it is not clear-cut whether these should remain contracted out or be brought back in-house. The Office should undertake an internal benchmark costing, taking into account all the relevant factors, before deciding how to achieve best value.

The report suggests new procedures for the handling of appeals for entry to the patent and trade mark agent profession and on cases of misconduct. It suggests that the Office should encourage multi-disciplinary partnerships, which can offer a "one-stop shop" on a range of issues.

Overall, the review shows what a success story the UK Patent Office has become. The Office is found to set a high example in its responsiveness to customers and open communications with staff, its new IP Portal and its successful involvement in the "New Deal" initiative. Other agencies, and other parts of government, could particularly learn from its example in these respects.

I would like to place on record my appreciation for the efforts the staff and management of the Patent Office have made to bring about these achievements.