The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) enables applicants to initiate patent protection for an invention in almost any country of the world (as of March 2014, there are 153 PCT contracting states) by means of a single international patent application – the PCT application. Following a centralized search of the international patent application, the applicant obtains a detailed preliminary assessment of the patentability of the invention – the international preliminary report on patentability.
The international application, however, does not lead to an “international patent”. On the contrary, within 30 or 31 months (depending on the respective country) after the priority date of the international application, applicant has to select national/regional patent offices of the countries or regions, where patent protection is finally desired. Each selected national/regional patent office then independently decides on the patentability of the international patent application in the respective country/region.
Filing a single international patent application not only results in less administrative efforts in the early stages of the application but also has an important strategic advantage: since a considerable portion of the overall costs is postponed until the national/regional phases, applicants can use the time to evaluate the commercial success of the invention or to find investors. As a result, a sound selection can be made of the countries in which patent protection is eventually sought.