However, there have been a number of procedural changes, also. These affect all Australian applications, including those filed as the national phase of an international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Indeed, since most PCT applications are prepared to meet the substantive legal standards of a range of countries, including the US and Europe, it is probable that many international applicants will not be as much concerned about the legal reforms as about the procedural changes.
Applications filed prior to 15 April 2013 are theoretically able to proceed subject to the old law. This includes PCT applications – for which the effective Australian filing date is the international filing date. However, this is only the case if examination was also requested prior to 15 April 2013. An examination request cannot be validly filed on a PCT application until after it has entered the national phase in Australia. It therefore follows that any PCT application proceeding in Australia on or after 15 April 2013 must, by definition, be subject to the law and procedures as amended by the Raising the Bar reforms (including the implementing regulations).
The Australian National Chapter of the PCT Applicant’s Guide [PDF, 65 kB] has recently been updated to reflect the procedural changes introduced by the Intellectual Property Laws (Raising the Bar) Act 2012. This seems like a good opportunity to inform (or remind) readers of the current requirements and processes during the national phase in Australia.
National Phase Entry DeadlineAustralia permits the filing of national patent applications based upon a PCT application up until 31 months from the priority date. This deadline applies regardless of whether the international application was subject to International Preliminary Examination (i.e. ‘Chapter II’) or not.
Extensions of TimeThere is no automatic right to an extension of time if the 31-month deadline is missed.
However, in appropriate circumstances (e.g. in case of an error or omission on the part of the applicant, agent or attorney, or due to circumstances beyond the control of the person concerned) an extension may be granted. It is necessary to provide adequate evidence to support the grant of an extension, and to pay the required extension fees.
In fact, there are no special rules in place for PCT applications – the general extension of time provisions in section 223 of the Patents Act 1990 apply to the national phase entry deadline, just as they do to most other deadlines set under the Act.
ExaminationPatent applications are not automatically examined in Australia. A request for examination must be filed along with the associated fee. An examination request may be filed at the time of making the application or – in the case of a PCT application – entering the national phase in Australia. Alternatively, filing of the examination request may be deferred until a later date.
In any event, the final deadline for requesting examination is five years from the relevant filing date. In the case of a PCT application, the deadline is five years from the international filing date.
Additionally, the applicant must request examination if directed to do so by the Commissioner of Patents. It is common that this occurs earlier than the five year deadline. If a direction to request examination is issued, then the request must be made within two months of the date of the direction notice. (Prior to the Raising the Bar reforms, this period was six months.)
Acceptance (Allowance) DeadlineThe approval of an application for grant as a patent – which is known as ‘allowance’ in the US, and some other jurisdictions – is referred to as ‘acceptance’ in Australia.
For all PCT applications entering the national phase in Australia on or after 15 April 2013, the period within which all objections/rejections must be overcome, and the application accepted, in 12 months from the date of the first examination report (Office Action).
Prior to the Raising the Bar reforms, an additional nine months (i.e. up until 21 months from the first report date) was available, upon payment of monthly late response fees. This still applies to applications for which the request for examination was filed before 15 April 2013, even if examination does not commence until after this date.
EntitlementAll requests for examination filed on or after 15 April 2013 must be accompanied by declarations as to the applicant’s entitlement to apply for and be granted a patent, and to claim priority of any earlier application. Prior to the Raising the Bar reforms, these declarations could be provided at any time prior to acceptance of the application.
An applicant may, however, provide the entitlement details earlier in the application process. In particular, PCT applicants have the option of providing entitlement details at the time of international filing, under PCT Rule 4.17(ii) and (iii).
ConclusionEntering an international application into the national phase in Australia is relatively straightforward.
In a minimal case, an applicant is required only to provide:
- identifying details of the international application;
- a statement clearly indicating that the applicant is requesting entry into the national phase; and
- the filing fee.
- the national phase filing deadline in Australia is 31 months from the priority date;
- an extension of the time limit may be available if the failure to meet the deadline was unintentional;
- examination may be requested at any time, and must be requested within five years of the international filing date, or within two months of the Commissioner issuing a notice directing the applicant to request examination;
- the deadline for achieving acceptance of an application is now 12 months from the first examination report date; and
- Australia does not require assignment documents to be filed as proof of entitlement, but does require that a declaration of entitlement be filed no later than at the time of requesting examination.
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