Quality in the processing of applications
Correct quality means that what we supply to our customers is correct and delivered at the agreed time, so that we meet our customers' needs for predictability. NIPO's quality assurance system is certified according to the internationally recognised standard ISO 9001:2015.
Quality control of decisions
As part of our quality control, we carried out quality measurements in 2017 in all three areas (patents, trademarks and designs) to verify that requirements corresponded to practice. These measurements provide us with a basis on which to assess whether we fulfil external and internal requirements for correct decisions, and help us to identify possible areas for improvement. In a measurement of quality we select areas that are critical for correct case processing, and check a random selection of cases to see whether we fulfil the quality requirements.
NIPO's overall quality target is to meet the requirements for the correct quality in 96% of cases. The results from the quality measurements in 2017 showed that we fulfilled the objective of 96% correct quality for all three specialist areas in the initial processing of formalities, and in the examination of patent applications and design applications. There were slightly more discrepancies in the examination of trademark applications in 2017 than in the previous year, and the survey showed 93.5% correct quality. Some discrepancies have been repeated over time, and we are therefore taking measures to improve quality and carry out subsequent checks to make sure that the measures taken have the desired effect.
In the area of patents, we focused in particular on simplified (fast-track) processing, as this area had lower quality than expected in the quality survey in 2016. The check made in 2017 did not discover any discrepancies, showing that the measures taken in this area have had the desired effect.
In 2017, we conducted five internal audits to improve quality and make internal processes more efficient regarding the services we deliver to our customers. Among other things, we looked at the examination of first applications for patents, the new Customer Service Centre and the management's annual review of the quality system.
We also continued work on reducing the risk of errors and improving data quality in our databases, including customer data and the status of rights.
Information security was the focus area for the year in the periodic audit with DNV GL in 2017.
Norwegian Board of Appeal for Industrial Property Rights (KFIR)
Appeals against decisions by NIPO in patent, trademark and design applications are considered by the Norwegian Board of Appeal for Industrial Property Rights (KFIR). The number of appeals is around 100-150 per year and has remained at this level for many years. The number is low in comparison with the approximately 20,000 decisions made by NIPO every year. 130 appeals were received in 2017. As usual, most of the appeals concerned trademarks. Of the 130 appeals, 75 have not yet been decided by KFIR.
There are various reasons why applicants appeal against our decisions, and the number of appeals therefore does not automatically reflect the quality of decisions at NIPO. It is nevertheless useful to look at the assessments and the outcome of appeals considered by KFIR.
Trademarks: Of the 114 trademark appeals lodged in 2017, 60 have not yet been decided by KFIR. In those appeals which have been decided, NIPO's decisions were upheld in 39 cases, while the decisions were wholly or partially overruled in 9 cases. The other cases were either dismissed or appealed further to a court of law.
Designs: There were no appeals in the area of designs in 2017.
Patents: Of the 16 appeals concerning patents lodged in 2017, one has been dismissed and the others are still being processed. KFIR in 2017 declared 17 patent decisions appealed prior to 2017 admissible, and among these the NIPO decision was changed in 4 cases. Three cases were appealed to a court of law.
NIPO considers the figures to show that KFIR and NIPO have harmonised practices, and that the quality of NIPO decisions is good. The parties to appeal cases can submit new documentation for consideration by KFIR, which in some cases has led to the content of the appeal case being different than when the application was processed at NIPO. It is only in very few cases that KFIR disagrees with NIPO's understanding of the law. These cases have led to NIPO amending its practice.
Harmonisation of practice with EUIPO and EPO
It is important for Norwegian trade and industry that regulations on processing applications for patents, trademarks and designs are applied identically in different countries, so that processing is predictable for someone who applies for registration in several countries.
In addition to the decisions from KFIR and the courts, NIPO follows European practice in EPO, EUIPO, EU law and the European Court of Justice. EUIPO and national IPR authorities cooperate through a "Convergence Programme" to make case processing more uniform. There was less activity in this work in 2017 because of EUIPO's work on amendments to the Trademarks Directive. We anticipate that activity in the Convergence Programme will resume in 2018.
In the area of patents, harmonisation studies are carried out in which PCT applications processed by NIPO for the NPI are compared with the EPO. 49 PCT applications processed in 2015 and 2016 were assessed in 2017.
The study does not show any large or systematic differences in regulatory practice and shows smaller differences than in the previous study. We do, however, see a trend towards the NPI and the EPO assessing clarity and unity somewhat differently. We therefore plan a refresher course in the assessment of clarity and unity for all case processing staff in 2018.
The comparison is found to be useful in harmonisation work, and we are planning a new study based on 50 PCT applications from 2018.