In November 2018, the PHEP successfully finalised its work on unity of invention. This project was jointly led by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the National Intellectual Property Administration of the P.R.C. (CNIPA), and focused on the uniform application of the unity of invention standard embedded in the PCT to international applications.
The PHEP analysed the various approaches for raising non-unity objections, and agreed on a clear and simple common definition of the minimum reasoning standards and the steps to be followed by the individual examiner, when assessing whether an international application comprises unitary subject matter.
A series of case studies in selected technical fields (mechanics, electricity and chemistry) allowed the lead Offices to develop and propose a methodology which is fully consistent and compatible with the practices of all IP5 offices. While differences in the applicable substantive patent laws may lead to diverging outcomes, all examiners will nevertheless follow the same, consistent, step-by-step methodology when assessing non-unity in international applications.
In terms of benefits this common approach will enhance transparency and predictability for users. Most notably it is significant as it is currently not available in the PCT International Search and Preliminary Examination Guidelines (ISPE).
Regarding next steps and in consultation with IP5 Industry work is already underway to expand the application of this methodology outside the framework of the IP5. A follow-up in the Meeting of International Authorities under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT MIA) is ongoing with a view to potentially integrating this methodology in the relevant chapter of the ISPE.