What is Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT): An Explainer

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) came into existence in the 1970s to provide economical and streamlined means for filing of patent application in several countries. With the scope and value of patent protection increasing over time, the need for such a treaty has only been validated. However, as businesses move to seek worldwide patent protection under PCT, the pros and cons of the treaty have also surfaced.

What is Patent Cooperation Treaty?

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an international IP agreement that provides patent protection in several countries through the filing of a single common application. The treaty, governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), has more than 150 nations as signatories, who are also known as PCT Contracting States.

Filing patent applications under PCT implies securing legal protection for an invention under patent law in more than 150 countries at once. Major global corporations, research institutes and universities seek patent protection via PCT. It safeguards applicants against accidental errors which are far more likely to occur if a separate application is filed in every country of interest.

Advantages of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)

Emerging as the cornerstone of the international patent system, PCT simplifies the managing and processing of patent applications. The benefits of the treaty include:

  • Parallel Patent Protection
    When an applicant files for patent in the US, it’s likely to preclude the chances of obtaining patent protection in other countries. That’s where the role of PCT comes in. The treaty allows businesses to have simultaneous protection under patent law in the PCT contracting States, including the US.
  • Comprehensive International Patent Search

When one files a patent application with WIPO under PCT, the organization conducts a global patent search that enables applicants to find out whether the invention can be patented across the world. This knowledge can significantly affect the very decision of patenting the invention itself.

For instance, if a patent is found to be unpatentable after disclosure in a PCT application, it can prompt a decision to withdraw the application, preventing the cost of national phase filing. Hence, it is also an efficient method of managing risk.

  • Time-effective Application Process

Filing separate patent applications in all the PCT Contracting States would require amending the application according to the rules and regulations of each member country. The process will not only be daunting but also time-consuming. The treaty accelerates all your patent applications globally. Some of the PCT Contracting States also have PCT-Patent Prosecution Highway Agreements that enable even faster processing.

  • Strong Grounds for Patenting Decision

Once an applicant files a patent application under PCT, WIPO sends a global patent search report and an opinion on the patentability of the product – both make obtaining grant of a patent in selected countries considerably easier. The information also plays a critical role in assessing the prospects of acquiring a patent.

  • Opportunity to amend applications

Applicants get an opportunity to amend a PCT application before entering national phase countries. Amendments can be made on a voluntary basis or in order to address the search and examination report which is issued by PCT.

Disadvantages of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)

On the other side of the coin, PCT has certain disadvantages too. However, its benefits surpass the negligible limitations. Some of the drawbacks of the treaty are:

  • Limited Patent Coverage

You can obtain only utility patents through patent applications under the PCT. You can’t patent a design through this process. The process also creates examination delays and it takes more time to acquire patent via PCT route. But PCT gives you additional 18/19 months to select the countries of interest.

  • Costlier Patent Process

The PCT also makes the patent process a bit costlier as it requires an applicant to prosecute the application separately in each country. It also costs attorney fees in international phase. However, the process can provide favorable and cost-effective solutions such as streamlined prosecutions. However, PCT fee reductions are available when the PCT application is filed electronically or the applicants belonging to developing countries get 90% reduction in the official filing fee.

Conclusion

Amendments are made every year to simplify the PCT system and to make sure it remains aligned with the interests of the applicants and the national patent offices in respective countries. The treaty brings together nations, motivates inventors, and enables the spread of technological advancement to different corners of the world.

-The Editorial Team

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