What is a PCT application (or Patent Cooperation Treaty Application)?
A PCT application is an international patent application that preserves your priority date and also delays the date when you need to file foreign patent applications. Many countries are members of the PCT, and you can file a foreign patent application in any of those member countries which claims priority to a PCT application.
Ordinarily, when you file a U.S. patent application it will start a one-year clock, and you must file any foreign patent applications claiming priority to that U.S. patent application before the clock expires.
But if you file a PCT application then you will be able to delay filing any foreign patent applications until 30 months after the PCT application’s priority date. (Some countries and regional patents permit filing 31, 34, or even 42 months after the PCT application’s priority date.)
For example, assume that an inventor files a provisional patent application. The inventor is interested in foreign protection, and therefore he or she then files a PCT application at the end of the provisional application’s 12-month life. The PCT application then gets the provisional application’s priority date, and any foreign patent applications will need to be filed by the end of the 30-month period (which is 18 months from the date that the PCT application was filed since the PCT application’s priority date was actually 12 months earlier than the PCT application was filed).
The benefits of filing a PCT application are that it allows you to see how the market reacts to your invention and helps you determine where to invest money in foreign patent protection. Obtaining foreign patents is expensive, and enforcing them is even much more expensive. The PCT buys you time to really decide where you want to pursue foreign patent protection.
In addition, foreign patent applications that claim priority to a PCT application can have lower filing fees than if you were to file directly in that foreign country without the PCT application. There is a cost associated with filing a PCT application, but it is generally thought that the PCT application will pay for itself if you end up filing a foreign patent application in at least three or four foreign countries. But even if you only end up filing the patent application in one or two countries, the PCT application will still benefit you by deferring the time that you need to decide where to file foreign patent applications.
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