What Does International Patent Protection Mean?

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A question I get asked rather often – what does International Patent Protection mean? Then, after I recommend the filing of an international patent application (known as a PCT application, but will get to that later), my clients frequently ask: “wait, I have to file for an international patent application and it’s not even a patent recognized around the world?” Yep, that’s right.

There is no single “Patent” that is recognized around the world.  Rather, 148 countries (listed here: http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/pct/en/list_states.pdf) have entered into a Patent Cooperation Treaty (known as the PCT).  Under the PCT, each country must recognize a single international patent application (known the PCT application) and its patent priority date.

A PCT application may be filed up to 12 months after a national application has been filed in any one of the 148 countries that are members to the PCT.  This means within 12 months of filing either a US provisional patent application or non-provisional utility patent application, you may decide to step up and take your patent protection to the international level.

Prior to the PCT, if you were interested in international protection, you would have to file a patent application in each country all within 12 months of your national patent filing date under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (established back in 1883)!  This would be rather difficult and expensive experience.

With the PCT, a patent applicant need only file a single PCT application within that same 12 month period.  This single application is examined by a recognized international authority which issues a ‘patentability opinion’.  This patentability opinion, however, does not serve as a granted patent or a patent right. The Applicant has the opportunity to persuade the international authority of the patentability opinion if the opinion is not favorable.

In order to convert the patentability opinion to an actual patent, the PCT applicant may take the opinion and present it to any of the patent offices of the 148 countries that recognize the PCT applicant.  This must be done within 30 months of the applicant’s patent priority date (the date of the earliest national filing, if there was one).

If the patentability opinion issued by the international authority is favorable, the national patent office frequently adopts the opinion (subject to some local, national laws and exceptions) and grants a patent within its jurisdiction.  Even if the patentability opinion issued by the international authority wasn’t favorable, the applicant may still submit it to the national patent office and attempt to persuade the national patent examiner of the application’s patentability on the national level.

If you’ve understood my explanation correctly – you’ll see that there is no such thing as an international patent.  Rather, there is an internationally recognized patent examination process used to streamline the prosecution of patent rights when the patent applicant is seeking patent protection in many countries.

If you are interested in more detail related to your situation it is best to speak with an attorney.

Yuri Eliezer heads the intellectual property practice group at Founders Legal. As an entrepreneur who saw the importance of early-stage patent protection, Yuri founded SmartUp®. Clients he has served include Microsoft, Cisco, Cox, AT&T, General Electric, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Coca-Cola.

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