I had a revealing conversation with one of my foreign associates the other day. I had asked them to continue reminding me of patent maintenance fees for one of my clients, even though the client would be responsible for the payment of the fees. I got a strange level of pushback from the foreign associate. When I asked why, they said “Because we would not know if the fee had been paid.” What? “Just go online” I said. Well, that opened up a whole can of worms I never knew existed.

It turns out that our neighbors across the Atlantic are not all particularly forthcoming on letting the public know if a patent is still in force. Two countries in particular are of interest. Apparently, in France, to determine if a patent is still in force you need to pay for “the issue of a report on the state of annual fee payments.” To add insult to injury, you will need to hire a French firm to do so. Sacre Bleu! This really changes the dynamic of small companies trying to determine if they have freedom to operate in a crowded art space.

But wait, there’s more! In Italy they do not even keep track of maintenance fees. So much so, that they abolished maintenance fees in 2005 (but then brought them back in 2007). In Italy, the patent holder has the responsibility for proving that they have paid their maintenance fees. In effect, it is impossible to find out if a patent is in force in Italy without alerting the patent holder. Mama Mia! What are they thinking over there?

I will never take my links to the Official Gazette and Maintenance Fee payment site for granted again.

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