UK IPO Green Channel Acceleration of Patent Applications

The UK Intellectual Property Office operates a "green channel" which allows patent applicants to have their patent applications accelerated if their invention relates to a green or envinronmental technology. We have used the scheme many times since it began and we summarise the key points below.

What patent applications may use the green channel?

The UK patent application procedure can be accelerated under this scheme if the described invention relates to a green or environmentally friendly invention. In practice, the UK IPO interpret this quite broadly and do not usually refuse requests where reasonable arguments can be provided. However, the environmental benefits should be apparent from the application and not spurious, otherwise requests may be refused.

How is green channel acceleration obtained?

In order to obtain acceleration under the green channel. a request must be made in writing. The request should be clear as to whether the applicant wishes to have the search process, examination process and/or publication accelerated. The request does not have to be made on filing but can be made later.

What is the effect of acceleration?

If the request for acceleration is accepted then the application is considered out of turn. If an accelerated search is requested, then a search report is typically received in 1 to 2 months, rather than the usual 6 or more months. Similarly, examination reports will be issued promptly where accelerated examination is granted. If combined search and examination has been requested, then both reports should issue together in the 1 to 2 month timescale.

In the normal course of events, UK patent applications are published shortly after 18 months from the filing date, or priority date, if earlier. Early publication can anyway be requested as of right, but with green channel acceleration, publication can be further accelerated. Many applicants will not want to have their applications published early because that will put their ideas into the public domain earlier than would usually be the case. Nevertheless, early publication is necessary to obtain particularly fast patent grant because the UK IPO will not pass an application for grant until a minimum of 3 months after it has been published.

What are the benefits of green channel acceleration?

Accelerated prosecution may allow a UK patent to be granted more quickly than would usually be the case. However, there are other more immediate benefits. It can be especially helpful to receive an early search report in order to assess the patentability of the invention and consider whether any further information might be added in a supplementary patent application to distinguish over the prior art which has been found. Where the UK IPO find that an application relates to multiple inventions, they search only the first claimed invention and offer the opportunity to have further inventions searched on payment of additional search fees. Without green channel acceleration, it is often not possible for further searches to be completed before the end of the priority year. With green channel acceleration, it is also possible to split the search and examination steps without a long delay before the first examination report is received. Green channel acceleration may also facilitate patent filing strategies such as using Patent Prosecution Highways in other countries.

What are the downsides of green channel acceleration?

The main disadvantage of green channel acceleration is that it brings forward costs that could otherwise be deferred. If a patent of broad scope is unlikely to be granted, that will also become apparent more quickly than would otherwise be the case - some applicants will appreciate receiving this information quickly to avoid spending money on international patent filings, others will find that it causes them problems, for example in raising investment. Another disadvantage is that while you have a pending application, you have more options open to you than once the application process is entirely completed.

In conclusion, the green channel acceleration scheme is a regularly used and very helpful feature of the UK patent application process. The UK IPO also publish a useful database of published green channel applications which now contains several thousand cases.

If you have any questions about green channel acceleration please do not hesitate to contact us.

Related articles