What is the PCT?

This article also answers the following questions:

  • What are the main objectives of the PCT?
  • What is the PCT Receiving Office?
  • What is the PCT application timeline?
  • Where can I file with a PCT application?

A PCT patent application is not a primary patent application (i.e. it does not obtain a granted patent covering a number of countries), but rather provides a route to file a central application which is converted to national and regional applications (listings of each given here) and so allows the inventor to delay the filing of these patent applications.  This gives the inventor time to test the invention, raise capital & decide in which markets the invention is likely to be successful.  Over 130 regional and national offices are covered by the PCT (coloured in blue in the map below).  Filing international applications with the PCT is becoming increasingly popular, with the two millionth application filed recently.

PCT contracting states as of April 2010

Main Objectives of the PCT

  • To lodge one application, with one Office and in one language,
  • Formal examination by a single patent office,
  • Good International search & examination reports,
  • Provides more time to the applicant.

A priority patent application for an invention is filed in one country, and after the priority date is obtained, a PCT issued by WIPO may be used to preserve the right to file the same invention in each country under the PCT.  The PCT claims the priority date from the initial patent application.  An international search report, and international examination (optional) are issued centrally from the PCT application.  The PCT application then enters national phase, by far the most expensive aspect of the application process as fees need to be paid to each national patent office during filing, prosecution and maintenance,  as well as to local attorneys.  The PCT does allow these costs to be deferred,  usually for up to 30 months from the priority date.  Once the PCT has entered national phase, the resulting applications are treated as national or regional.  Individual independent patents may then be granted for each country/region, according to local laws.

What is the PCT Receiving Office?

The Receiving Office is the Intellectual Property office in which you file your initial three copies of your international application with one request form.  The Receiving Office will then check the application to ensure you have met all of the formal requirements for the PCT.  One copy of the application is retained, one copy is forwarded to the International Bureau (IB) of WIPO, and the final copy (when GB is the Receiving Office) is sent to the EPO who act as the International Searching Authority (ISA) for the application.

PCT Timeline

A simple timeline for the limits for international PCT applications filed on or after 1 January 2004 is shown below.  A helpful tool to calculate time limits for submission of priority document, international publication and entry into the national/regional phase is available free-of-charge from WIPO.

 PCT Timeline
Where to File?

When the PCT application reaches national phase entry, all contracting states bound by the PCT are potential states for filing the national phase application.  By thinking carefully about their market, and their resources, the applicant can select a subset of the states to actually file their application into.