The “International Patent”


In this article of our series on intellectual property, we talk about aspects of obtaining international patent protection. Most of the previous articles have provided information on Canadian and US patent law.  Many inventors also want to obtain patent protection in other countries outside of North America. 

Is there an “International Patent”?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an international patent.  A patent must be obtained from each country in which you want to protect your invention.  You must file a patent application in each country you want patent protection in.  This does not mean, however, that you have all of those patent applications at the same time. 

International Priority
Under the Paris Convention, an inventor may file a first application in one country.  That inventor may then file subsequent applications in any other country they want up to 12 months later.  At that time they can claim the “priority” of that first application.  By claiming priority to the first application, all subsequent applications have an effective filing date of the first application. 
It is important to remember, however, that this process is only available in countries that have signed the Paris Convention.  Currently, over 170 countries around the world have signed this treaty including most major industrialized countries.

The “International Patent Application”?
In addition to the ability to file subsequent applications, newer treaties have created the ability to file an international patent application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).  Although there are less countries that have signed the PCT than the Paris Convention, there are still over 130 countries including most of the major industrialized countries that have signed it. 
The PCT application is a single application filed with an international body.  The PCT application is kept as an international application for 2 and a half years in the “international phase”.  After this, the inventor has the choice of converting the PCT application into a national application in each country the inventor wants.  Each of these national applications then continue to be examined and issued as if they were regularly filed in that country.