While Global 500 enterprises likely have entire legal teams – and big budgets – focused on protecting their intellectual property (IP), smaller companies and individual inventors most often have much smaller budgets, and subsequently, much fewer options on where they can seek protection. As a result, many of their inventions are only protected in their home countries. Or, when seeking foreign protection, these small companies must be extremely selective in which countries they choose to file. Fortunately, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), established in 1970 and currently signed by 148 out of the world’s 194 countries, assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally.
PCT provides a unified procedure for filing patent applications to protect inventions in each of its contracting states. While a PCT application does not result in the grant of a patent itself – there is no such thing as an “international patent” – by filing a single international patent application under the PCT, applicants can simultaneously seek protection for an invention in any or all of the 148 countries throughout the world.
How does it work? Specifically, filing a PCT application preserves your priority date for 30 or 31 months, depending on the member state. This can be especially important when filing in a handful of countries with different rules about how soon you need to file to maintain “first to file” status. Even better, it allows you to spread the costs of filing in multiple locations – which can be quite costly – over a period of time instead of having to pay it all at once.
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