A PCT application can help limit the time and expense of filing multiple patent applications across countries.

An increasing number of patents need international protection. Many patentable ideas have global reach. While applying for a patent in the U.S. can be complex, at least you have an idea of where to begin. But what if you need a patent that applies in another country, or multiple countries?

Patents are limited by territory, meaning U.S. patents only apply within the borders of the U.S. There is no "international patent" to which an individual, organization or business can apply.

However, when your patentable idea has international implications, it may make sense to file an application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, and international patent agreement that applies in each of its contracting states. If you meet all requirements, you will not need to file a separate patent application in each country for which you want patent protection. Instead, your PCT patent application will be used in every country which has signed the agreement.

Major international corporations, universities and individuals all use the PCT when seeking international patent protection.

What is the Patent Cooperation Treaty?

The World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, receives applications under the PCT. WIPO is an agency of the United Nations.

A "PCT patent" does not exist. Instead, a PCT application helps procedurally by limiting your application to one filing, in one language, which contracting countries can use to grant patents.

The PCT was created in 1970 and you can file a PCT application if you are a national or resident of a PCT contracting state.

Which countries have signed the PCT?

The PCT has over 145 contracting states, including in the countries where 90 percent of all patents are sought, namely the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and South Korea.

What can I expect during a PCT application?

In brief, with the help of your attorney, you will file a patent at an appropriate "receiving office." The receiving office will send the patent application to international authorities and WIPO. International authorities will conduct a search regarding your patent application. WIPO will then publish your application, along with a written opinion, and communicate it to regional offices across the globe. Those regional offices will then grant their own patents according to their laws.

It is important to note that WIPO does not itself grant patents. Your actual patent is granted during the PCT "national phase entry" in the countries for which you specifically seek protection.

How long can I expect my PCT application to take?

You will have approximately 12 months between your initial filing at your regional patent office until you file a PCT application. The international search and subsequent written opinion by WIPO will take place approximately 16 months after initial filing. You then have the option of filing a demand for an "international preliminary report on patentability," which can help your application during the "national phase" of your international patent application process.

You can expect to enter the national phase of your PCT filing approximately 30 months from the date of your initial filing, at which time you can decide in what countries you wish to seek protection.

Where do I begin?

If you have a patentable idea or are seeking international protection for an already patented idea in the U.S., speak to an experienced patent law attorney who is familiar with PCT patent applications.

The Eldredge Law Firm is a North Texas intellectual property law firm providing services in domestic and international patent protection.