Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if an inventor could file a single application to get global patent protection? Or maybe even on a lesser scale, say, an Asian patent or a North American patent. Does an international patent even exist, and if so, how do you apply for one?
Unfortunately, a global patent doesn’t exist, and it’s unlikely that a patent covering the entire world will come into being anytime soon. There has been much discussion on the creation of such a system, but daunting obstacles must first be overcome.
For example, every country has its own views on and treatment of intellectual property rights. Software patents are near impossible to get in some jurisdictions, but are granted in others. Same goes for inventions dealing with the treatment of human beings. Also, the tenacity and sophistication of patent offices differ significantly from one country to another. Examination of such a patent would presumably be handled by a global patent office guided by internationally ratified statutes. When has a majority of the nations agreed on anything, let alone on a subject as fragmented as patent rights? Before a global patent is created, all these variances in patent law would need to be aligned. Easier said than done.
A famous musical artist once postulated “Mo money, mo problems”. That maxim even holds true in the patent world. Patent applications are big business, generating significant revenue for the governments in popular filing destinations. The USPTO predicts collecting almost $2.7 billion dollars in fees in 2013. Under a global patent system, the fees collected would need to be divided up amongst the member nations. I can’t imagine China, Europe and the US seeing eye to eye on a fee-splitting regime with Saint Lucia and Nepal.
Staying on the topic of money, I’d imagine that the filing, examination and grant fees for a global patent would limit its use to only the top, deep-pocketed patent filers. Few start-ups and inventors even need, let alone can afford, global patent protection. Currently, filing in just a handful of countries can easily add up to several tens of thousands of dollars. Certainly a global patent could reduce costs and increase efficiency, but no one is going to give away worldwide patent protection.
Enforcement and litigation of an international patent raises another quandary. What court would oversee these cases and how do you bring together plaintiffs and defendants potentially located on opposite sides of the world? Is it worth it for a US patent holder to sue a Chinese infringer in the global patent court, located in, say, Europe? These are all difficult questions that must be answered before a global patent system is realized.
Luckily, regional patent organizations have emerged which have simplified and reduced costs for patent filers. By filing a single application into one of these regions, the applicant can obtain patent protection in the member countries. Examples of such regions include Europe, ARIPO and OAPI.
In addition to this, patent applicants have two different avenues to consider when filing abroad. Both the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and the Paris Convention Treaty are international agreements that allow the applicant to file a single application into multiple jurisdictions. Filing via the PCT is better suited for those looking to extend their international deadline as it reserves the patent holder’s right for 2.5 years (from the application’s priority date). On the other hand, many applicants who limit the number of filing countries see cost savings through direct filing. Direct filing is also used for jurisdictions that are not contracting members of the PCT.
For those readers interested in learning more about these foreign filing options, you can read more here.
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