Sometimes you come up with an idea so good that you feel compelled to share it with the world. But businesses based on unique, innovative ideas need patents to stave off imitators and keep their inventions to themselves.
Applying for a patent can be complicated enough in your home country, but if you want to expand your business abroad, you will have to look into patenting your invention in new legal territories.
There is no such thing as an international patent. Instead, you must patent your invention in all of your target markets individually. Luckily, there is a system in place to streamline the process of simultaneously filing patents in multiple national territories, and it’s called the PCT.
What is the PCT?
The PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) is an international agreement to which 138 nations have signed up. Contracting states include all the major market territories such as the UK, China, the USA, France, Japan, and many more. The World Intellectual Property Organisation has a full list of contracting countries here.
The PCT cannot offer you a one-size-fits-all global patent because patent law can be very different from country to country. Essentially, it is a quicker, cheaper, and more organised way to apply for multiple national patents at the same time.
However apply for patents through the PCT is not as simple as making a phone call or filling out a form. It is still a complicated and time consuming process, often lasting up to 31 months, so it is best overseen by a professional. This is why we at Global Voices offer services to help with registering a patent around the world.
Once you have enlisted the help of professional patent lawyers and translators, the registration process will go something like this.
1. Send an application to a Receiving Office
Each country has its own PCT Receiving Office. In the UK, it is the International Patent Classification (IPC). Your IPC application must be very carefully worded to make sure there is no chance of misinterpretation, so you must ensure that you describe exactly what you have invented in no uncertain terms. IP Watchdog has some tips for accurate and descriptive patent wording to help you achieve this successfully, but your professional patent team will be able to help you too.
2. Confirm which countries you want a patent in
During the 31 month process you will have to finalise which countries you want your patent to be active in and inform your patent lawyers and the Receiving Office. You can choose any number of territories.
3. Wait for the applications to be received
Before your application can be sent to individual countries, it will still be in the “international stage” of the process. During this time, you must wait for the Receiving Office to receive and read the patent, and then to send it out to the specific nation through the PCT.
4. Wait for the specific national patents
Once the applications arrive at each individual country you want your invention to be patented in, they will have passed the “international stage” and reached the “national stage”. The “national stage” can be another drawn-out process, as each country runs the application through its own unique patent requirements.
In some cases it will take a long time for a patent to finally be accepted in every target nation, but your patent legal team will be with you every step of the way should anything go wrong, or should you be needed to supply any additional information to any of the countries you have submitted applications to.
Once your patent is active in a territory, you can get to work on the hugely rewarding process of expanding your business overseas.