The international patent application procedure under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) provides for centralised filing and prosecution of patent applications in a single language before a single authority.

World national flags flying

International applications progress through two main phases, the “international Phase” before the PCT authorities where prosecution is in a single language, followed by the “National Phase” where prosecution continues before one or many selected individual national or regional patent offices.

In the international phase, PCT procedure is divided into two sub procedures, Chapter I procedure in which centralised filing for a number of states and where a centralised search is provided, with a lower level of examination, and Chapter II examination in which centralised examination before a single authority in a single language is provided to a higher level. Chapter II examination is optional, but recommended.

At the end of the international PCT procedure, which lasts in general a maximum of 30 months from the first filing date (or the priority date), to continue protection before any national or regional patent office, separate individual patent applications must be filed at those particular national or regional offices. This stage is known as the national/regional phase of the international application. Once the patents enter their national and regional phases, further search and examination occurs in those countries. At this stage, proceedings are in the languages of the selected national states.

In our short video below, Dr Robert Franks explains talks about how patent rights can be applied for in more than one country.  

As of October 2005, 128 countries are party to the Patent Co-operation Treaty as follows:

AE United Arab Emirates
AG Antigua and Barbuda
AL Albania
AM Armenia
AT Austria
AU Australia
AZ Azerbaijan
BA Bosnia and Herzegovina
BB Barbados
BE Belgium
BF Burkina Faso
BG Bulgaria
BJ Benin
BR Brazil
BW Botswana
BY Belarus
BZ Belize
CA Canada
CF Central African Republic
CG Congo
CH Switzerland
CI Cote d'Ivoire
CM Cameroon
CN China
CO Columbia
CR Costa Rica
CU Cuba
CY Cyprus
CZ Czech Republic
DE Germany
DK Denmark
DM Dominica
DZ Algeria
EC Ecuador
EE Estonia
EG Egypt
ES Spain
FI Finland
FR France
GA Gabon
GB United Kingdom
GD Grenada
GE Georgia
GH Ghana
GM Gambia
GN Guinea
GQ Equatorial Guinea
GR Greece
GW Guinea-Bissau
HR Croatia
HU Hungary
ID Indonesia
IE Ireland
IL Israel
IN India
IS Iceland
IT Italy
JP Japan
KE Kenya
KG Kyrgyzstan
KM Comoros
KN Saint Kitts and Nevis
KP Democratic People's Republic of Korea
KR Republic of Korea
KZ Kazakhstan
LC Saint Lucia
LI Liechtenstein
LK Sri Lanka
LR Liberia
LS Lesotho
LT Lithuania
LU Luxembourg
LV Latvia
LY Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
MA Morocco
MC Monaco
MD Republic of Moldova
MG Madagascar
MK The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
ML Mali
MN Mongolia
MR Mauritania
MW Malawi
MX Mexico
MZ Mozambique
NA Namibia
NE Niger
NG Nigeria
NI Nicaragua
NL Netherlands
NO Norway
NZ New Zealand
OM Oman
PG Papua New Guinea
PH Phillippines
PL Poland
PT Portugal
RO Romania
RU Russian Federation
SC Seychelles
SD Sudan
SE Sweden
SG Singapore
SI Slovenia
SK Slovakia
SL Sierra Leone
SM San Marino
SN Senegal
SY Syrian Arab Republic
SZ Swaziland
TD Chad
TG Togo
TJ Tajikistan
TM Turkmenistan
TN Tunisia
TR Turkey
TT Trinidad and Tobago
TZ United Republic of Tanzania
UA Ukraine
UG Uganda
US United States of America
UZ Uzbekistan
VC Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
VN Vietnam
YU Serbia and Montenegro
ZA South Africa
ZM Zambia
ZW Zimbabwe

Whilst the cost of filing and prosecuting an international application under the PCT is in addition to the costs of prosecuting the national patent applications in the national/regional phases, there is still a significant cost saving available compared to the alternative of multiple foreign national patents. Firstly, the cost of filing in a number of different countries is delayed for up to 30 months compared to filing applications directly at those national/regional offices. Secondly, much of the search and prosecution procedure can be carried out in a single language before a single authority, avoiding much of the translation and administrative work which would otherwise occur individually before the respective national or regional patent offices.

The international authorities are incapable of actually granting a patent at the end of the international phase, this only occurs during the subsequent national phase. However, they do produce an international preliminary examination report giving their comments on the novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability of the application. A favorable international preliminary examination report generally makes the subsequent processing of the national and regional patents before their respective national and regional patent offices run much more smoothly, and there is considerable saving in time, effort and cost to be had by obtaining a favorable international preliminary examination report from the International Preliminary Examining Authority.

For more information about this, please see our PCT timeline, which can be downloaded using the link below.

Experts in Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT)