A businessman looks over a skyline pondering how patents work internationally. (Shutterstock)
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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

People seek patents to protect their intellectual property from theft or unauthorized use. They preserve market shares by ensuring no one else in the US can use your idea or invention. But how do patents work internationally? Growth is a near-universal business goal, making internationally scalable patent protection a hot topic. Below, we’ll examine the scope of patent protection and what steps you can take to extend it beyond the US. 

How Do Patents Work in the United States?

A patent in the US grants an inventor exclusive rights to prevent anyone else from making, using, or selling their invention. These rights may extend to the design, the product itself, or the process. Essentially, a patent is a legal representation of a person’s intellectual property. There are three different types of patents in the US:

  1. Design patents: A design patent protects the visual characteristics of the patented object. To qualify for a design patent, the object must be completely original to the person seeking its protection. It must also be a genuinely novel patent—no identical design can have previously existed.
  2. Utility patents: A utility patent is the most commonly sought-after protection. It covers the very creation of the invention—whether it falls under the category of a process, methodology, or physical product. This type of patent makes unauthorized use of your invention by a company or individual illegal.
  3. Plant patents: As the name suggests, a plant patent is specifically designed to protect new plants. Asexual reproduction is a requirement for this patent because the creator must be able to prove that they can reproduce the plant being patented.

Scope of Protection

At its core, patent protection gives people exclusive commercial and distribution rights over their intellectual property without the patent owner’s consent. The period of protection for most patents is limited to twenty years from the date of application.

How Do Patents Work Internationally?

Patent protection can be complicated because it is a territorial right. Technically, if you’re asking, “how do patents work internationally?” regarding a US patent, the short answer is that they don’t. Generally, patent rights are only applicable in the region or country in which the patent was granted.

Familiarizing yourself with another region or country’s intellectual property laws is no small feat. Aside from being a time- and resource-consuming endeavor, it also requires a certain level of legal expertise. Not to mention, to secure patent protection in a foreign country, you’ll have to hire a foreign patent attorney to help prosecute it before that country’s patent office. For this reason, we always recommend consulting with an intellectual property attorney familiar with international patenting before beginning the arduous process of international patent registration on your own.

How Can You Protect Your Patent Internationally?

If you don’t have a specific geographical location in mind, you may be overwhelmed at the prospect of applying for individual patents by country. After all, every nation has its own distinct intellectual property laws and regulations. These varying processes would require you to apply for protection through each nation’s governing authorities. Thankfully, there are several ways to approach international patent protection.

Patent Cooperation Treaty

If you’re wondering about international patents just to broaden your scope of protection, consider looking into the Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT. The PCT is an international agreement among over 150 Contracting States. The PCT allows patent seekers to apply for protection in many countries simultaneously. This treaty alleviates the burden of single international patent application filing, so long as the countries in which you seek protection are among the Contracting States.

Pro Tip

Say you’ve filed a patent application in a Member State of the Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property. In that case, you can then file applications in other Paris Convention countries within one year of the initial application date. This allows you to consolidate the timeline by claiming the filing date of your very first application for each subsequent Member State!

Direct Route

The direct route, sometimes called the Paris route, is an alternative method to obtaining international patent protection through the PCT. Here, you file separate applications at the same time in each of the countries in which you seek patent protection.

Bold Patents demystifies the international patenting process. Contact us to schedule a free consultation and find out which method of international patenting will best suit your intellectual property needs.

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at https://boldip.com/contact/