On 12 May 2009, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) introduced its "Green Channel", allowing patent applications for inventions having an environmental benefit to receive accelerated search, examination and/or publication.

The opportunity to "jump the queue" and potentially achieve a granted patent sooner is available at no charge; no reasons are required and a simple statement, or reasonable explanation, is sufficient; the UKIPO will only refuse requests that are "clearly unfounded".

Between its launch in 2009 and the end of 2021, over 4000 patent applications have been processed through the Green Channel. The UKIPO searchable database does not provide details of the inventions for which Green Channel has been requested, but does provide the owner and title, and the International Patent Classification (IPC), into which all patent applications are classified according to the different areas of technology to which they pertain.

You might expect that a substantial proportion of applications processed through the Green Channel would relate to ocean energy devices, which would certainly qualify for acceleration. A quick search of the Green Channel database using just the title of the invention throws up 24 hits for wave energy devices, and 17 for tidal energy, a total of 41. Alternatively, a more thorough search using IPC code F03B (machines or engines for liquids), sub-categories 7 (water wheels), 13 (power stations) and 17 (other) produces 98 hits; searching using E02B (hydraulic engineering) sub-category 9 (water power plants) produces another 2 hits, providing a slightly higher total of 100 hits for patent applications relating to wave and tidal energy.

Although the methods used to produce these figures are undoubtedly less then completely accurate, the number of applicants using the Green Channel for wave and tidal energy devices still seems surprisingly low, suggesting that not all applicants in this field are aware of the possibility to accelerate their patent applications via the Green Channel route.

Accelerated prosecution in the UK has several benefits. Faster search and examination may lead to faster grant, and a granted patent can be enforced against infringers, used to attract investors and to accelerate prosecution in other jurisdictions via the Patent Prosecution Highway.

Beyond the possibility of a quick grant, accelerated examination at the UKIPO provides a patent applicant with a good idea of the "prior art" in the field - the earlier patents and other documents cited by the UKIPO Examiner as relevant to novelty and inventive step. This information may allow the applicant to further develop their invention before the 12-month deadline for filing foreign or PCT applications.

In the developing field of ocean energy these benefits could be crucial, and would certainly help innovators in wave and tidal energy get the most from their patent applications.

Marks & Clerk can provide advice on the use of Green Channel for a wide range of environmentally friendly technologies, including wave and tidal. If you would like to know more, please get in touch for an informal, no-cost, no-obligation chat. We offer dedicated support for start-ups and spin-outs, too.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.