Overview of IP Australia’s examination practices

8.5 IP Australia receives patent applications from applicants in Australia and overseas. Patent applications may be filed in person at one of IP Australia’s state offices, by mail or electronically. The Patent Office is divided into various groups, which have responsibility for different aspects of processing a patent application, including groups responsible for patent administration and patent examination.

8.6 The patent administration branch initially processes patent applications. Applications are categorised and assigned to a particular examination section according to the International Patent Classification (IPC) system at the subclass level.[6] The IPC system is a hierarchical classification system created by international convention and administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization.[7] It comprises sections, classes, subclasses and groups (main groups and subgroups). In the seventh edition of the IPC, there are 628 subclasses but no single category of the IPC encompasses all inventions involving genetic materials and technologies.

8.7 The patent examination branch handles examination of patent applications and challenges to patent rights determined by the Commissioner of Patents.[8] Currently, the examination branch includes two Deputy Commissioners of Patents and eleven examination sections. Each examination section comprises one supervising examiner, three to four senior examiners and approximately 16 patent examiners. A third Deputy Commissioner is responsible for dealing with challenges to patent rights. This section comprises one supervising examiner, one senior examiner and two clerical staff.

8.8 Examination of a patent application is generally undertaken by a single patent examiner, although a team of three examiners is used when prior art searches are conducted. The work within each examination section, and of each patent examiner, is prioritised to ensure that statutory time limits are met and IP Australia’s targets and standards are also fulfilled to the extent possible.

8.9 The supervising examiner and senior examiners within each examination section perform a variety of functions, including training and evaluation of newly recruited examiners; managing any issues referred by examiners assigned to a particular application; and reviewing examiners’ work for quality control purposes.

[6] IP Australia, Submission P56, 4 November 2003.

[7] World Intellectual Property Organization, General Information on the Seventh Edition of the International Patent Classification System (IPC), <www.wipo.org/classifications> at 16 June 2004.

[8] Challenges to patent rights are discussed in Ch 9.