Hello, PCT enthusiasts. Today WIPO has placed into service its new version of the PCT Applicant’s Guide. (WIPO has dubbed today’s new version as “the eGuide“.) You can see it here. Importantly, the legacy version of the Applicant’s Guide is still available. You can see it here.
By way of background, old-timers such as myself will recall that in the old days, the PCT Applicant’s Guide was a set of about four looseleaf binders. The binders contained hundreds of physical pages, each printed on A4 paper. From time to time a big thick envelope would arrive in the mail from the International Bureau, containing replacement sheets and new to-be-added sheets. It would then be some’s task to go through these sheets, carefully identifying an old sheet to be discarded, snapping open the rings of the binder, and replacing the old sheet with the new sheet. From time to time the task would be simpler — merely inserting a new sheet into place. I imagine that in those days, many PCT enthusiasts shared my vague anxiety about the things that would surely go wrong if someone were to insert a new sheet into (horrors!) the wrong place, or if someone were to extract and discard the wrong sheet.
It was thus a great relief when the Internet happened and then web sites happened, and shortly thereafter, the International Bureau migrated the Applicant’s Guide away from the four looseleaf binders and onto a set of web pages on WIPO’s web site. The chief consequences of this migration were:
- my anxiety about what could go wrong if someone carried out the physical updates incorrectly disappeared; and
- the online Applicant’s Guide was, by definition, always up to date in an automated way (from the user’s point of view).
Now, on December 15, 2022, we see a migration from the online Applicant’s Guide in one format to … wait for it … the online Applicant’s Guide in a slightly different format.
Some years ago I had the misfortune to get a broken ankle. The surgeon who patched up this broken ankle did a very good job of it. The physical therapist who pushed me along to do various exercises during rehab did a very good job of pushing me. The practical consequence is that nowadays if I were hiking along and if a hiking companion were to ask “which ankle of yours was it that got broken a few years ago?”, I would actually have to think about it for a moment. Nothing about the feelings in my two ankles during the hike would have given any instant way to recall which ankle it had been. I think most readers would agree with me that if I have to think about it for a moment to say which ankle it was, this is the very definition of a successful surgery and rehab.
And so with this perhaps unfortunate metaphor, I can offer my best guess about how the changes that happened today in the format of the Applicant’s Guide will affect many users. My guess is that … wait for it … many users will not notice that the format changed today.
The substantive content of this reformatted Applicant’s Guide is intended to be identical to that of the Applicant’s Guide the way it was yesterday. The main thing that is different is the nature of the underlying engine that makes the Applicant’s Guide appear on the screen of your web browser. Yesterday’s Applicant’s Guide was what a computer programmer might call a “flat file”. Basically it was an enormous HTML file. The way it would get updated was that somebody at the IB would edit the HTML code using a suitable HTML editor.
The change is that starting today, the Applicant’s Guide is database-driven. Some dozens of individual databases are stored somewhere, and if you visit a particular “page” of the Applicant’s Guide, the stuff that you see on the screen of your web browser is assembled by drawing upon those many databases.
What this should mean for users is … wait for it … very little. For users, today’s version should work pretty much like yesterday’s version. If you wanted to know whether a particular ISA does or does not charge a fee for handing in a sequence listing late, the way you would get the answer today is (or at least is intended to be) the same way you would have gotten the answer yesterday. It would take about the same number of mouse clicks to get the answer. The places you would click would be mostly familiar and similar today when compared with the places you clicked yesterday.
WIPO has a news item dated today, in which WIPO explains today’s transition of the Applicant’s Guide to its new format. Here is the part I liked best about the news item:
Lastly, the International Bureau greatly appreciates the feedback received from the group of experienced PCT users who provided comments on the test version of the eGuide.
Yes, when WIPO was developing this eGuide, WIPO set it up in a test environment, solicited feedback from some PCT users, and paid attention to the user comments. If only other patent offices could be this way!
One thing that the alert user might notice is that legacy version of the online Applicant’s Guide had a wealth of internal hyperlinks. You could be in a particular paragraph of the Applicant’s Guide and it might contain hyperlinks to three or four other particular paragraphs of the Applicant’s Guide. See the screenshot at right showing the legacy paragraph 5.187 which contains internal hyperlinks to paragraphs 5.184, 7.002, 5.072 and 5.093. You could click on “7.002” and it would bring you directly to paragraph 7.002 with just one mouse click.
Those many thousands of internal hyperlinks are, alas, missing from today’s version of the Applicant’s Guide. At right you can see the same paragraph as it appears in the eGuide. The text mentions of those other paragraphs have been preserved, but you can’t actually click on them to get to those other paragraphs.
The WIPO news item acknowledges this and promises that this wealth of internal hyperlinks will eventually be restored. The news item says:
Additional cross references will be provided in the future.
My own reaction is that if this small gripe is the biggest gripe I can come up with, then the situation that we face is that WIPO did a really good job of designing and constructing today’s eGuide.
The alert reader is no doubt wondering, what is the problem for which this new eGuide is the solution? If the legacy Applicant’s Guide and today’s reformatted Applicant’s Guide are substantively identical and largely functionally equivalent from a user point of view (which indeed they are), then what was the need for this change? WIPO offers a few thoughts about this in its news item. As mentioned in the news item, an important aspect of this is:
… the eGuide will enable the International Bureau to update information in relation to all PCT Contracting States and Offices in a more efficient manner.
The news item says the new format will “increase data processing efficiency” for the people who are tasked with making updates to the Applicant’s Guide.
It is also contemplated that this new format for the Applicant’s Guide will permit WIPO to add some user-friendly features in the future. The news item says:
Some features which are planned include expanded and advanced search and comparison of data, as well as for exporting data results in user-friendly formats.
What do you think of today’s new format for the PCT Applicant’s Guide? If nobody had drawn your attention to the changes that happened today, is it possible you might not even have noticed the change of format? Please post a comment below.