When it comes to renewing or maintaining IP rights, there are few terms which generate as much attention as “Due Date”. But as horrifying as it may sound, the industry really needs to finally stop talking about them, for two very important reasons.
1 – The “Due Date” is rarely an important date
What is a due date? In normal life, a due date is – forgive me for stating the obvious – a date that something is due? If the law for a given country is that the renewal is “Due” on the anniversary of filing, then you would assume that the renewal must be paid and secured on or before the anniversary of filing. This is almost always either false, or a gross over-simplification.
It is common for territory law to allow payment to be made by “the last day of the month in which the due date falls”. Doesn’t that mean – in practical, real, terms – that the Due Date should really be “the last day of the month in which the anniversary falls”?
If that doesn’t complicate things enough; what happens if the anniversary is a Sunday and the IPO isn’t open? Do the rules allow you to pay on the next working day? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Let’s say the anniversary was the last day of the month, and that day is a Sunday? Do you get a whole extra month? Or just one more day? The truth is, it varies by territory, and in some cases by filing route, or whether the case has previously lapsed and been restored, or any number of seemingly abstract factors. And this is just dealing with dates that exist: What happens when the filing date is the 29th February, for anniversaries on non leap years?
Let’s say you’ve worked all of the above out, but a given territory also allows a further one month’s surcharge-free grace period. The due date suddenly becomes quite an abstract notion.
Setting aside for the moment the issue of risk management, if a patent is renewed on the “due date”, is it any more renewed than if it were renewed on the last day of the surcharge-free grace period?
If the cost is identical, exactly the same paperwork was involved, and the resulting rights are exactly the same, then what does the “due date” actually represent, except a fulcrum date about which to pivot the rules of the territory in order to work out a much more valuable date?
The only important official dates for a given renewal year are:
- The earliest date the renewal can legally be paid
- The date(s) that official fees change (eg. late-payment surcharges)
- The critical deadline (ie. the very last moment the renewal can be secured, after which it will otherwise lapse)
Nothing else actually matters, in practical terms. The “due date” only means anything if it also happens to be one of the above.
For this reason, we strongly urge the industry to stop considering the Due Date as a deadline at all. We understand that sounds nuts, but the next section explains why.
2 – Risk Management and Control
IP Formalities is all about risk-management. We’re the proud owner of a 100% (zero-fail) record across hundreds of thousands of filings. We want to retain that record. So we’re all about risk-management.
If the “due date” is [12 July], but you can pay by the last day of the month, and you also get an extra month’s surcharge-free grace period, then (ignoring further complications, for the sake of simplicity) we place our focus on what is arguably the real deadline (and the one that matters): 31 August. We don’t schedule reminders or other actions based on 12 July, but instead on 31 August.
“That’s all well and good, but the grace period is there as a safety net”
This is the most common objection we receive. Great IP formalities people (the people we build our services for) spend the majority of their time in a state of controlled anxiety. They’re organised, so it’s controlled, but they care massively, so they’re anxious. That’s a good thing! The risks are massive.
If the risks are massive, and you rely on grace periods to mitigate these risks, then you’re allowing yourself to give more of a safety net in some territories and less in others, purely depending on the law in that territory. You’re allowing varying IP laws to determine the quality of your risk management, and are in other words not really controlling the management of the risk at all – someone else is.
If, instead, you always track the really important date (the date the official fees go up, or the critical deadline), and you’ve decided you would like to have a free-of-charge grace period of 1 month, then you can do that in every territory around the world regardless of that territory’s law. Just set your internal reminders to require payment by 1 month before the date you track. You are then precisely controlling and managing risk on your own terms. This is less stressful for you (as human beings, unknowns are a major source of chronic underlying stress) and it’s safer and clearer for your client.
Everyone knows where they stand, every time. You’re no longer chasing clients with urgency when there is none, or receiving instructions dangerously late unnecessarily. It’s all controlled.
Why doesn’t everyone do this?
The short answer is “because it’s too complicated”. At IP Centrum, we took the decision to track real, meaningful dates, rather than arbitrary ones, and so have a level of control and precision which is unprecedented anywhere else in the industry. We have had to gain a far more detailed understanding to a far greater level of precision than any of our competitors, and this is only because – if we want to provide the service we’ve designed – we have no choice but to do so.
Check out the Renewal Visualiser screen shot below, for a Validated Albanian patent.
There’s a lot of information there which is simply not possible to display without a level of understanding beyond the extremes of that expected of other providers. The grey line is the price over time. The green diamond is the earliest date the renewal could legally be paid. The blue teardrops are price changes (in this case representing the exact moment of the start of each of the two surcharge periods), and the red crossed circle is the critical deadline. The “now” marker shows the current moment, and prior to that marker currency fluctuations can be seen. The green bar at the bottom is the “protection period”, or in other words the period of rights that are gained by way of paying that renewal (the rules for which are not always as straight forward as you might imagine!).
The reason other providers base their reporting on “the due date” is because it’s immeasurably easier to research and implement. But it leaves risk, ambiguity and dramatically reduces efficiency due to the number of questions that must be asked to gain full understanding in urgent or unusual cases.
IPC Renew allows you to set reminders (by on-screen alert, email, or even SMS message if you wish) at various intervals before price increases and/or critical deadlines.
Not a single mention of a due date.