A blockchain of a proposal: Is the IPO changing?

Over the past few months, there has been much discussion around mainstreaming the use of blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in processes that are otherwise manual or part-automated. A recent tender (see) issued by the Indian Intellectual Property Office (IPO) indicates that the IPO too is seriously considering exploring these technologies. If it manages to find the right vendor, we may see a sea change in how patent applications are processed.

This tender appears to be a follow up on the recent proposals made by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog,  exploring the use of blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI), regarding a platform called ‘IndiaChain’. (Downloadable)  This is intended to be a blockchain-enabled infrastructure for Indian enterprise and government. According to some, once implemented, this will be the world’s largest blockchain implementation program in governance.

The changes are, on the face of it, straightforward, but can dramatically improve the user experience of IPO services. For example, the IPO hopes to be able to forecast timelines for users regarding different actions to be taken by the office. Through improved search methods using AI, its ability to provide pointed examination reports to applicants will improve. A scientifically-operated workload-based allotment of patent applications to examiners, will make optimal use of human resources available. Automated checking against formal requirements (as provided in the law and rules) such as application formats, attachments, and so on, can reduce the manual intervention required, and speed up the process considerably. Reduced manual intervention will also impact transparency and accountability processes in a positive way.

The tender, titled, “Expression of Interest for Making use of Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, IoT and other latest technologies in Patent Processing system of IPO”, offers a teaser of where the IPO sees new technology being used in the patents process, stage-wise, is as below:

  1. Filing stage: Potential use of block chain to streamline registration, through encouraging information sharing by rights holders, and assisting users in filing processes
  2. Electronic Data Processing: Digitization and automation of application filing; improved OCR proofreading; tagging information in drawings; increasing the speed of information retrieval
  3. Classification stage: Using natural language processing (NLP) to understand patent documents and to automatically classify them; ML capability to analyze the contents of patent specifications that are otherwise in unstructured PDF form
  4. Screening stage: Screening for specific types of subject matter, e.g., atomic energy; defence related subject matter
  5. Publication stage
  6. Allotment stage: Allotting patent applications to examiners on the basis of technology, the individual workload of examiners, and so on; Rectifying disparities, such as, allowing processing on the basis of first to file rule as far as possible, keeping in view the different nodes functioning independently of each other.
  7. Prior art search: Automatically formulating search queries; Different types of search capabilities, such as human-assisted, or semantics-based; Image searchability; harmonise the search interfaces for patent and non-patent literature
  8. Examination stage: Automatically checking against formal requirements, as per the Act and Rules; and a substantive examination based on inputs retrieved through the use of AI
  9. Pre-grant and Post-grant Opposition stage: Evaluating the inputs received
  10. Hearings stage: Capability to automatically evaluate amendments
  11. Others: Having an interactive response system for stakeholders; Automated user feedback; Using ML to answer IP policy and issues faced by policy makers; Data analysis generally; Determine sufficient evidentiary value to determine the rights of first filer in a First-to-File regime; Machine translation for English into other Indian languages and vice versa; Timeline predictions, and so on.

The big question for all users – agents, innovators, examiners alike – is when will all this happen? This tender closes on 30 August 2018, but it will be some time before all of this gets implemented.  The next thing, of course, will be to extend this to other parts of the IP ecosystem, particularly trademarks, which sees huge volumes everyday.

All this is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. There are far more sophisticated uses for blockchain in the field of intellectual property, including most obviously, ledger management. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has already put out some ideas on what can be done with blockchain in IP asset management. (See) A regulatory authority can easily keep track of the use of IP assets in the market, and use that information to require regulatory compliance, including license maintenance and working of patents, to name a few. The possibilities, once you actually get down to thinking about them, are endless.