Like other examiners, Wang Guilian’s day is driven by a quest for consistency and meeting targets. She is surrounded by clever colleagues: almost all of the 300 or so re-examiners have a science or engineering degree, more than half have studied law and almost two-thirds have a master’s degree or Phd. Wang herself is an engineer with degrees in US law and Chinese law. She also describes how SIPO has been transformed by technology, which has turned the office paperless and allowed examiners to work from home. That’s going to be increasingly important as Beijing congestion grinds the city to a halt (Wang herself moved closer to the office to avoid near-gridlocked commutes).
So how is the life of an examiner different from that of a lawyer in private practice or in-house? Well we suspect that few attorney firms have morning gymnastics sessions in the office (as they do in SIPO), or flash messages on their employees’ computer screens reminding them to take a break (as they do at the EPO). (If we’re wrong, do let us know.)
Although examiners have been keen to tell us that each day in the office is different, their work is likely to lack some of the variety of those filing applications: unlike patent attorneys there are no clients to schmooze or site visits to go on to aid understanding of the applicant’s business. The need to meet personal examination targets aside, there are few commercial pressures to get in the way of the twin intellectual pursuits of the science and the law.
But we did learn about the growing willingness of examiners to pick up the phone to applicants and their advisers to resolve minor issues and clarify areas of uncertainty. That can only be a good thing. As long as communication is properly documented and there is no bypassing of proper procedures then more face-to-face (or at least phone-to-ear) contact between examiners and IP owners can only be a good thing. Examiners have to retain a healthy scepticism about IP applications – after all, the IP system needs to work in the interest of lots of stakeholders, not just rights owners. But better communication between examiners and patent filers keeps the process moving, backlogs down and encourages a healthy respect between both sides of the patenting divide. And it gives examiners something else to do when they’re not looking for prior art or doing star jumps.
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