Intellectual Property Office clears patent backlog after 15-year battle

Trademark backlog also cleared after reaching record high last year
Intellectual Property Office, Concept House

By Tevye Markson

21 Jun 2022

The Intellectual Property Office has cleared its backlog of patent cases for the first time in 15 years.

It has also cleared its trademark case backlog, which reached a high of more than 32,000 in March 2021, as well as a backlog of 9,507 design application cases.

The IPO says clearing the backlogs, which was helped by the recruitment of 100 extra staff,  has led to a faster service for customers and greater customer satisfaction.

The government body, which has around 1,600 staff, said it had cleared its backlog despite having experienced two of the busiest years in its history with Covid-19 and Brexit causing “considerable challenges” on top of record numbers of applications and amendment requests.

The patent examination backlog has been steadily growing over the last 15 years. Three years ago, some 13,000 applications were still waiting to be examined more than 42 months after being submitted. By last April, that number had fallen to 6,000, before hitting zero in May.

The trademarks and design applications backlog, which became an issue in 2020, was caused by a huge rise in trademark applications, from around 65,000 in 2017 to 150,000 in 2021.

This was partly caused by Brexit, the IPO said. Customers who could previously go to the EU IPO for UK protection now have to go to the UK IPO. The Covid-19 pandemic also added pressure as it led to new businesses being set up and companies diversifying, the executive agency said.

At its peak, in March 2021, the trademark backlog reached 32,185 applications, which took an average of 35 days to process.

With the backlog cleared, the IPO is now processing trademark applications within its target of 10 days. The IPO also had a backlog of 9,507 design application cases, which were each taking 32 days to process, and which has also been cleared.

As well as recruiting more staff to help reduce the backlog, the body also streamlined patent examinations to focus on the most important aspects first and created technology clusters so work in different areas could be shared across a wider group of staff rather than just in smaller teams.

The IPO said it had also invested in better forecasting – making predictions based on data – and improved the way applications were handled so that non-specialist staff could help examiners with early work on applications.

Customer satisfaction in the speed of IPO services has almost doubled in the last three years, rising from 42% in 2019 to 75% in 2022, as the backlogs have fallen.

Overall, the agency achieved a customer satisfaction score of 88% in March 2022, exceeding its ministerial target of 85%.

The IPO said it is now focused on launching its new fully digital service, which will allow customers to access all of its services in one place.

IPO chief exec Tim Moss said: “Clearing our backlogs has been a huge team effort, especially given the challenges we faced in Brexit and Covid-19.

“Our teams have worked incredibly hard and made processes more efficient to help us complete examinations more quickly. Now we have cleared the backlogs, we can focus firmly on our transformation plans.”

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