How has the IPO used AI to improve digital services?

Simeon Bowen, Transformation External Communication Lead at The Intellectual Property Office, explains how the organisation is pioneering the use of AI in its services.


More and more government departments are using AI to improve their services. Used correctly, it has the power to provide a quality, efficient customer experience. It can make life easier for staff and ensure progress alongside current and future tech trends.  

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is celebrating one year of its trade mark pre-apply tool: IPO’s first AI-powered service.  

Why AI?  

IPO is a trading fund responsible for Intellectual Property (IP) policy and administration. As part of this, we handle applications for UK patents, trade marks and designs. 

Our customers told us that applying for a trade mark can be confusing. One of the steps in the application process is checking the trade mark register for similar trade marks before applying. We know this can be daunting because of the number of existing trade marks on the register. To put this into perspective, we received 140,894 trade mark applications from UK rights holders in 2020/21. 

We worked with the Australian IP office and private sector partners to develop an AI tool which would simplify this. We wanted to build something like the Australian Government’s successful interactive Trade Mark Assist tool. This service evaluates trade mark proposals and identifies common mistakes before the application process starts. 

As this is a new area for the IPO, collaborating with partners helped us to fast-track our user research and development to build a high-quality service.

Integrating the service 

Our tool is embedded in the trade mark application process. It checks: 

  • if anyone already has a trade mark too similar to the one they want 
  • their proposed trade mark against basic trade mark rules 

We tested the tool with a range of small and medium-sized businesses, IP professionals and trade mark examiners to ensure it was embedded logically into the system. 

Originally the tool was split into three steps with results at the end of each. Our user testing showed that this was too complicated. We halved the number of steps in the process and included a single final results page. 

One year on- how has it worked? 

The service has been used 15,000 times in the last three months alone. This is equivalent to approximately a third of all trade mark applications in that time. It has provided several benefits, including: 

  • Quicker examination of trade marks, as examiners can now search and compare more easily.  
  • Better quality applications - we’ve seen a 14% drop in the average number of applications being rejected because of unsuitable classification terms. 

David Holdsworth, IPO Deputy CEO and Director of Operations, gave his view on what this means for IPO’s future services: David Holdsworth profile

“It’s great to see the positive impact our first AI-powered tool is making. More importantly, it’s a statement of intent for our future digital services. Through our One IPO Transformation Programme, we’re looking to bring the same innovative thinking to all of our customer interactions. We want to bring our digital services up to a level of quality that matches our reputation for world-leading customer service.” 

We’ve received positive feedback from our customers about the tool. One customer said: 

“As a first timer applying for a trade mark, I found this tool very beneficial. It helped me understand my chances of being rejected, and also on what grounds a rejection can be given.” 

Setting a benchmark 

The UK Intellectual Property Office is currently ranked as the 4th best IP office in the world, according to the WIPO Global Innovation Index 2021. Our ambition is to maintain our position as a world-leading IP office. We have a strong reputation for great customer service, but our digital services are holding us back.  

We’re looking forward to the possibilities that AI could open up for us as we progress in developing our services.

Our One IPO Transformation will bring our digital services up to speed with other IP offices and private sector organisations. In future, we’d like our digital services to be seen as the benchmark in our field. We want to provide a quality customer journey at a similar standard to that offered by organisations such as Amazon or Google. 

We’re on the right track for this, as Mike Fishwick, IPO’s CTO, explained at the GovX Digital Government Data Show recently. IPO UK is the first IP office to build an AI tool which searches for trade marks with similar words, images and composites (a word inside an image). 

Where else can we use AI?  

The IPO’s digital transformation is taking place over five years, and we are about seven months into that so far. We’re looking forward to the possibilities that AI could open up for us as we progress in developing our services. Opportunities could include: 

  • Improved automated text searches for trade marks using Natural Language Processing 
  • Automated help and guidance, such as pre-apply services across all IP rights (patents, trade marks and designs). Suggested classifications of goods and services or chat bots 
  • Advanced validation and authentication features across customer accounts and application processes. This would help improve the quality of applications we receive. 

To hear first about the latest updates on The IPO's transformation programme, check the One IPO Transformation news updates.

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