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IP for Space Sustainability: Are We Missing a Trick?

November 2023

With the increasing focus on placing sustainability at the heart of innovation in the space sector,  exemplified by the launch of initiatives like Astra Carta, it’s clear that the space sector can play a leading role in creating a more sustainable future both here on Earth, and beyond our own small patch of the Solar System.

For example, Astra Carta aims to shape a future of responsible and sustainable space exploration through sustainability goals, approaches, and standards. However, despite these advancements, many innovators may not know that their green credentials can also provide them with a proverbial step up the intellectual property (IP) ladder.

Perhaps a slightly lesser-known service provided by the UKIPO for applicants filing new patent applications is the Green Channel. This mechanism enables applicants to request accelerated processing of their patent application if the invention for which they are filing has an environmental benefit.

This service is free to use but isn’t automatic, and must be requested by the applicant. So those that don’t act may well be missing out.

Requesting acceleration under the Green Channel Service

In order to request acceleration under the Green Channel, an applicant must file a request in writing that provides an indication of how their application is environmentally-friendly. However, from our experience, these indications are not rigorously tested, and it’s not hard to imagine that space sector innovations with sustainability in mind would easily meet this requirement.

What are the benefits of this?

An applicant can request acceleration of various different aspects of the patenting procedure.

When combined, these accelerations may allow an application to be fast-tracked to grant, enabling innovators to more quickly take advantage of the benefits of patent protection for their commercial activities. For example, allowing innovators to license their patented technology more quickly. Rapid grant of a UK application may also provide businesses with earlier access to the Patent Box scheme that allows companies to apply a lower rate of corporation tax to profits earned from patented inventions.

However, there are also strategic advantages in accelerating search and examination at the start of the patent timeline.

For example, receiving the Patent Examiner’s opinion of the invention early on can provide applicants with crucial insight into how their invention sits in the respective technological landscape and can give reassurance about the likelihood of their invention being granted a patent before key decision deadlines arise, particularly the deadline for filing internationally.

Also, being forearmed with the Patent Examiner’s opinion early on allows applicants to tailor the application to target more inventive aspects of an invention, saving both time and money as the application is processed both at the UKIPO and in any additional territories in which the application is eventually filed, or even consider revising and re-filing should there be rising doubts on the original content, or further work has been carried out on the original concept in the meantime.

Finally, using the Green Channel at the UKIPO to accelerate the grant of a patent application may unlock a snowballing of benefits in other territories because a number of other commercially important jurisdictions for the space industry (such as the European Patent Office, US Patent Office, and Japanese Patent Office, to name a few) subscribe to an initiative known as the Patent Prosecution Highway Program. This is a global initiative that enables examination of applications to be accelerated in the member jurisdictions if the application has already been deemed to be allowable by another member (the UKIPO in this specific case). So, a fast-tracked examination leading to a grant of a patent at the UKIPO can lead to a fast-tracked grant in several other countries, cutting down on associated prosecution costs in those additional territories.

Ultimately, being green can pay for applicants. But in order to see these benefits, applicants and their attorneys need to be proactive to ensure they benefit from the associated advantages that these initiatives can bring.

For more information on strategic patent filing and prosecution strategies tailored to help innovators in the space sector, please feel free to contact the authors: Associate, Victoria Bruce ([email protected]) and Partner, Jeff Clarke ([email protected]).

This article was prepared by European Patent Attorney Victoria Bruce, and Partner and Patent Attorney Jeff Clarke.

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