There are three different types of intellectual property protection, each protecting a specific type of creation. For example, trademarks are available for short phrases and symbols used for identifying a company or brand, while copyrights are available for original works authorship, such as literary and dramatic works. Patents, on the other hand, are available for inventions -- products or processes -- that provide a new way of doing something.
Since we live in a global economy, there are many intellectual property laws that stretch across nations, which means the owners of a given item of intellectual property can be protected in places other than their home countries. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is important for patent law because it allows patent-seekers to file an international application. The PCT is open to countries that were a party to the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. The PCT concluded in 1970, then amended in 1979, and modified twice, in 1984 and 2001.
You can visit FindLaw's section on Intellectual Property for more information and resources about patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
What Does the PCT Do?
The Patent Cooperation Treaty allows inventors to file international patent applications, which in turn gives their inventions patent protection simultaneously in several countries. An inventor may file this type of application if he or she is a national or resident of a Contracting State, meaning the country is party to the PCT. The application can be filed in the national patent office of the country of which the inventor is a resident or national (for example, a U.S. citizen or resident can file the application with the USPTO), or it can be filed with the International Bureau of WIPO in Geneva.
The Procedure under the PCT
The procedure under the Patent Cooperation Treaty begins with a person filing an international application. Then an international search is conducted by the International Authorities, which is one of the major patent offices appointed by the PCT Assembly. The International Authorities generates an international search report, which lists citations of published documents that may affect whether or not the invention in the international application can be patented. In addition to the search report, the International Authorities produces a written opinion on whether or not the invention is patentable.
Once the applicant receives the ISA's international report and written opinion, the applicant can either withdraw or proceed with the application. If the application is not withdrawn, the application and the international search report are published by the International report. The written opinion is simply for the benefit of the applicant and is not published.
Advantages to the Procedures Provided by the PCT
The procedures set forth by the Patent Cooperation Treaty provide various advantages to inventors, patent offices, and the general public. Thanks to the international search report and written opinion that accompany an international patent application, patent offices can reduce or virtually eliminate the work involved in searching and examining patent application. Also, because the international search report is published with the international application, it gives third parties a better position to formulate an opinion about whether or not the invention can be patented.
The applicant has up to 18 months more (than if he or she used a procedure outside the PCT) to decide whether to seek patent protection in foreign countries and take the necessary steps to seek foreign protection (such as appointing local patent agents, making translations, and paying national fees). In addition, when an applicant uses the application set forth by the PCT, the designated Office can't reject it on formal grounds during the national processing phase.
Getting Legal Help
If you have questions about the Patent Cooperation Treaty, or would like help determining if your invention qualifies for patent protection and filing a patent application, you may want to contact an experienced patent attorney in your area.