A United States patent protects your invention in the United States, but how do you protect your invention worldwide?
For U.S. residents, you will begin the patent application procedure by filing a U.S. patent application, with the help of a patent attorney. Once your U.S. application is filed, you have up to one year from your filing date to seek international patent protection. This one year is thanks to two international treaties. The Paris Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Most major countries have signed both agreements.
The Paris Convention allows you to file in the patent offices of most countries in the world within one year of your first U.S. application filing date. The agreement also grants you a priority date going back to the date of your first U.S. application filing.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (commonly called the PCT) works differently, and makes the process of obtaining international patent protection simpler for applicants. Under the PCT, you still have to file within one year from the earliest date of your U.S. application filing date. However, instead of filing in every country individually, the PCT allows you to file one Patent Cooperation Treaty application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In this PCT application you indicate that you wish to retain your right to file for patent protection in all the PCT countries of the world. This PCT application then gives you an additional 18 months before you need to actually go into each country individually to file for patent protection in that country.
The PCT application cost is not inexpensive – expect $4,000 – $5,000 (mostly in government filing fees) – but it buys you valuable extra time. This additional time is important, because obtaining patent protection in each country can become very expensive. With the additional 18 months (two and a half years from the date of your U.S. application filing date), you can learn more about where you plan to sell your product, and where patent protection may be necessary.
Once you determine the economic success of your invention and decide what countries you would like to obtain protection in, your attorney needs to hire patent attorneys in those countries who will seek patent protection on your behalf from their local patent office.
This basic outline of international patent law gives you an idea of how the process for obtaining international patent protection works. The most important step is getting your U.S. application filed. Once you file your U.S. application, you have some time to think about proceeding with obtaining international patent protection. Filing a PCT application allows you additional time to decide the countries where you will seek patent protection.