Global Patent Protection
The thing about a US patent is that it stops at the US border. The same is true for patents in Canada, Mexico, the UK, and just about every other national border. If you want your invention to reach an international audience, you’ll need to make sure it has international protection.
All across the world, patent law is fairly similar, and this is entirely by design. For the past several years, nations have been slowly working towards standardizing patent laws between nations so that multinational entities like large corporations can count on some consistency when they decide to spread a new invention across the globe. For instance, in 1995 the United States bumped utility patent coverage up to 20 years from 17 in order to match the international standard.
In 2016, the European Union is planning to roll out a unified patent system which every member nation will honor. Up until now, inventors and corporations have had to file with each and every nation individually, a process that was expensive both in money and in time.
Fairly soon, though, the process should become a lot faster and smoother, and as an added bonus you can move existing national patents up into the EU’s unified patent system. Some companies may choose to opt out and continue to defend their patents in national courts, but these will likely be limited to pharmaceutical companies whose drug patents are too valuable to risk jumping to a new system.
Securing Your International Rights
Filing a patent can be a major headache just from filling out all the paperwork and signing all the checks for one nation, so you can imagine how much worse it would be to file that same patent in over 200 nations simultaneously. Fortunately, the international Patent Cooperation Treaty provides at least some degree of automation.
The PCT is honored in 148 countries, including all of North America, Europe, India, and most of East Asia. The standard formula is to apply for a patent in your home nation, then file with the International Patent System twelve months later to begin an international search for any similar patents.
A year and a half after that, you’ll finally begin the process of applying for national patents among each individual member nation. You’ll often get a discount on the filing fees thanks to the work you put in at the international level, but at the same time, this is usually the most expensive part of the process – at least until the maintenance fees start accumulating.
Applying for a global patent is a long, expensive, repetitive process no matter how you slice it. However, if your invention has international appeal, it’ll definitely be worth all the effort you put in.