International Patents- Do they Exist?

The simple answer is NO.  A patent is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the legal right to exclude others from manufacturing, using or selling the invention. Patent protection is limited to a specific jurisdiction and no single patent provides protection at an “international” or “worldwide” level.

Those pursuing patent rights will not do so in all countries. They will pick and choose the countries that are of most interest to them. Obviously, some major economic jurisdictions such as US, China, Europe, Japan, South Korea etc are typically on the list.

However, the nature of the invention may determine heavily which countries they include. For instance, if you have a mining invention, some countries of interest may be Australia, Canada, South Africa, Chile, and Indonesia. Some companies pursuing patent protection do not bother with countries having smaller economies and or populations. However, if a company had an invention related to “processing milk”, it would most likely file a patent application in a small country like New Zealand, as it is one of the world’s largest milk producing and exporting countries.     

Whilst there are no international patents, there is an “international patent application”, filed via a system operated as a result of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This system provides a means of filing a single international patent application under the PCT allowing you to initially seek protection in all member states of the PCT, which is over 150 countries.

At the end of the international phase (generally 30 to 31 months after the filling of the first patent application), this international patent application may be converted into a bundle of national/regional patent applications by choice and at additional cost, which are then examined by national/regional patent offices.

The PCT system offers an applicant the ability to defer the selection of countries/regions in which they wish to protect their invention. Whilst it is prudent to pursue protection at an early stage of an invention’s development, an applicant may still not be sure of the commercial value of its invention.  The deferment” provided by the “international patent application” may provide the applicant with valuable time to develop their international business strategy and evaluate the commercial prospects of the invention, before committing to the countries of interest.

A registered patent attorney is the best place to seek advice on the benefits of an international patent application.

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