The international patent application under the Patent Co-operation treaty (PCT) now has 139 contracting states
The 139 PCT contracting states include all the major industrial countries such as Europe, the United States, Japan, China, Korea, Brazil, Russia, India and Mexico.
For major corporations and small to medium sized enterprises, the international procedure is fast becoming the default procedure for first filing of patent rights.
Traditionally, applicants would file a patent application at their home country patent office - the UK Intellectual Property Office for UK based applicants, and then file any corresponding foreign patent applications within 12 months, taking advantage of the Paris Convention to back date the filing date of their foreign applications to the original UK filing date.
However, the number of international patent applications filed has been rising dramatically since inception of the system in 1978, and PCT filings passed the 1 million mark in 2008. Further, the procedure has been streamlined and is now more cost effective, making the cost gap between a national patent application and an international patent application even narrower. For UK companies, the difference in official fees between filing a PCT application and a UK national patent application is now £1882, and further small reductions can be made where the Patent Attorneys use the special filing software available from the international authorities.
There is a downside to the international application however. At the end of the procedure, there remains the individual national procedures and the European procedure to negotiate, which means that the PCT can delay the grant of rights compared to following the individual national routes. Continuing in each of the individual countries at the end of the PCT is optional, so applicants can pick and choose the final countries according to their budget. However, in terms of cost effectiveness in geographical coverage for the initial first 30 months from filing and simplicity of procedure, the PCT system is an automatic choice for many companies in protecting their inventions.
Whilst the UK patent application system is likely to be of use for decades to come, the increasing number of international applications, and the increasing number of European wide patents which are being obtained which automatically cover the UK, mean that the UK patent system is increasingly being displaced by the European patent system and the International patent system.
Article Published January 16th, 2009