Patent FAQs

The Patenting Process

The filing and recognition of patents is truly international. While it is essential for patent agents and lawyers to appreciate the differences between national laws and procedures, international conventions have imposed a large measure of standardisation. All developed countries and many developing nations are signatories to these conventions. In general, if you want to establish patent protection in a particular country, you must apply for a patent within that country.

Public disclosure of an invention before the date of the patent application will generally bar the right to patent it (though not necessarily in the USA). Most countries require a patented invention to be exploited in that country – usually within three years.

The cornerstone of the modern patent system is the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property of 1883, along with its many revisions. In January 2000 the Convention had 157 signatory nations. It applies to all industrial property including inventions, marks, industrial designs, utility models, trade names, geographical indications and repression of unfair competition.

The Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) was concluded in 1970. Since then the PCT has continued to expand and, in January 2000, had 106 contracting states. The Convention provides for the right of priority. Having filed one application at one patent office, an international filing date is also obtained for the application. That filing, or priority date, will have the effect of a regular national filing in every country the applicant has designated. Priority details appear on all patent documents, enabling an international family of patents, relating to one invention, to be traced easily.

In practice, one national filing forms the basis of international coverage. Although applications will ultimately be made in each country, the published technical details will rarely differ greatly. National filings still occur, but in recent years the European Patent Convention and Patent Co-operation (World) Treaties have made supranational patents possible. The trend to use the European route has grown since its inception. For most major European countries, the number of European patents which designate a national are far greater than the number of separate national filings. Under the European Patent Convention patent protection can be obtained in 19 countries by filing a single application at the European Patent Office. Six other Extension states are expected to become members in due course. For the US, the number of national filings still exceeds the numbers filed via the World route. Choice of national, regional (European) or World (PCT) patenting routes depends on many factors. The greatest of these is the relative cost of filing a patent and keeping it in force in each territory. For instance, in place of three national patents, it may be cheaper to file a European Patent, in one language, for three or more countries.

This document Copyright Thomson Scientific © 2004

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