What Is the Patent Cooperation Treaty?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an international treaty to facilitate the process of applying for patent protection in multiple nations. The international community approved the first version of this treaty in 1970, and it has been amended several times since, with more nations joining over the years. This treaty does not provide international patents, but does make it easier to apply for patents in multiple countries, thereby protecting inventions in more than just the inventor's home nation.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, when an inventor is ready to file for patent protection, usually in her home nation, she can choose to file a PCT application. This indicates the intent to file for patents in multiple nations. While the home patent office processes the patent, an international authority will run a search to determine patentability in other nations on the basis of uniqueness and other characteristics, generating a written report.

If an inventor does decide to move forward with applying for patents in other nations, he can decide where patent application is necessary, and submit the original application to offices in other nations. One advantage to the Patent Cooperation Treaty is a delay on the time frame for filing for patents, allowing inventors to save time and money while they determine if a patent is even necessary. Ordinarily, there is a limited time window to apply for patents in foreign countries after submitting the original application.

International patents are not possible because each nation has its own process, and it is possible for patent approval to occur in one nation, but not in another. Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the process of applying for multiple patents is streamlined, but the decision is ultimately at the discretion of each nation. Sometimes the result of the international investigation is an opinion that other nations would be unlikely to grant patent protections, making it unproductive to apply.

Periodic changes to the Patent Cooperation Treaty make it important to keep up. Patent attorneys can provide information on the treaty and the application process, in addition to handling applications directly. Inventors may rely on formal legal services for assistance because the process is complex, and many things can go wrong along the way. A trained attorney who monitors changes in patent law and trends will be able to prepare a strong application with an increased chance of acceptance, whether the applicant needs international patents or just a domestic one.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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