Foreign patent applications must be filed within one year of your earliest filing date. You can file foreign patent applications in individual countries (or jurisdictions such as the European Patent Office (EPO)) or you can file under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). By filing a PCT application, you can simultaneously seek patent protection in over one hundred PCT member countries (including the EPO).
Although the PCT does not give you an “international patent,” the PCT provides many advantages:
- Single initial filing fee.
- Single preliminary international search.
- One set of formality requirements.
- Single international publication.
- Single international preliminary examination and prosecution of application.
- Translations and national fees required at 20 or 30 months and only if you wish to proceed.
After filing under the PCT, you have about 20-30 months from your earliest filing date before having to prosecute your application in each selected country. Thus, a PCT application buys you extra international “patent pending” time. Kind of like filing an extension for your taxes. So the PCT is basically a fee-deferring device. It will not spare you from translation and prosecution costs in foreign countries, but it can postpone those costs for 20-30 months.
If you are making money from foreign customers, or if you expect your company to be acquired by a foreign company, then foreign patents probably make sense. Otherwise, they are likely a waste of money.