International patent applications
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) enables a single
international application to be filed covering about a hundred countries
around the world.
In the case of a British applicant, the international
application is searched, fairly quickly, by the European Patent Office (EPO),
is published by the International Bureau about eighteen months after the
earliest claimed priority date and then optionally enters a second phase
in which it is examined, fairly quickly, by the EPO. Then, 30 or 31 months
after the earliest claimed priority date, it is necessary to divide up the
application into national or regional applications for the
countries/regions which are still of interest. If a large number, the
costs at this stage are considerable. The international application does
not, therefore, result in an international patent, and should be
considered mainly as a way of extending the twelve month option for filing
foreign applications to 30 or 31 months..
During the subsequent national/regional phases, many
patent offices do not rely solely on the results of the international
search and pay little attention to the outcome of the international
examination. However, if the EPO conducted the international search and
examination, and if a positive examination report is issued, then in the
subsequent European regional phase a patent is likely to be granted
without difficulty and usually far more quickly than if a European
application had been filed directly.