International patent filings under the World Intellectual Property Organisation's (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) grew by 2.4% in 2008, to nearly 164,000 applications.
The annual rate of growth was below the average 9% increase in filings in the previous three years, which may be an indication of economic slowdown. However, in absolute terms, the total number of international patent applications was still the highest on record.
WIPO stated that the continued use of the Patent Cooperation Treaty to file international patent applications indicates that companies recognise the importance of sustained investment in research and development to remain competitive during challenging economic conditions.
However, there are more than just economic forces at work in determining the number of international patent application filings. Increasingly, companies are using the international system as their entry to the patent system instead of the traditional national patent application. A significant percentage of international patent applications are first filings, which means that they are made instead of a national patent filing.
Whilst an international patent application as an originating patent filing may cost around two to three times the cost of a national patent application filing, the international patent application includes 139 states. Overall for the first 30 months up until the end of the international phase, an international patent application costs around 1.5 to 2 times the cost of a national patent application, and if the national patent application is a foreign application requiring translation, the PCT can even cost less than the national application. Overall for the first 30 months, the "per state" cost of an international application can work out at about 2% of the "per state" cost of a national patent application. Effectively, the international application costs a bit more than a national application, but includes 138 extra states. It is not surprising that the international patent application is displacing the national patent systems of individual countries for initial filing and prosecution.
There are now so many countries in the international patent system that the prospect of a "worldwide patent" covering all states in the world in a single procedure is a realistic possibility. However, it has taken more than 30 years to get to 139 states, and no doubt it will take another 20 years or more until all countries of the world are in the international system.
Article Published January 31st, 2009