Which countries should SMEs file their IP rights in?

When it comes to deciding which countries to file your patent in, some SMEs already have a clear idea of where their market will be and file accordingly.  Others may be at a loss as to where their idea will be marketable and successful, or may want to branch out from their first filing country and don’t know where to start.  This article gives some useful links, as well as some tips to help demystify the selection process.

Be Strategic

First, remember that patents hold territorial rights, and so it is good practice for a company to be strategic in where they file.  Therefore, it makes more sense for a technology to be primarily protected in the country which offers its main market.  Obviously, in other countries, the technology may be in the public domain, which means another person(s) can commercialise the product without needing permission from the patent owner.  It therefore requires a strategic move in which you patent in the countries with the largest commercialisation opportunities, and realise that countries without the expertise and infrastructure to develop your technology are not as much of a threat.  The other side of this is that you must keep up to date with current trends in your market as well as any emerging technologies closely related to yours.  Imagine the consequences of not realising that a company in a country which historically did not appear a threat to your technology, recently began rather successfully producing and marketing a product very similar to yours, and you began to lose international business opportunities as the company started to file patents in several countries.

Tools to help

Although the country in which to file your patent in is largely dependent on your product/technology, several online tools are available which rank countries in terms of their market strengths.  The International Trade Centre (ITC) is a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations and offers Market Analysis Tools, which can be accessed free-of-charge for a one week trial for developed countries, and continually free-of-charge for developing countries.  Particularly useful for finding market potential in certain countries, a Trade Map Tool gives indicators by product classification of export performance, overview of competitors in global and specific markets, and a Market Access Tool, which tabulates the top exported products to a chosen country, as well as the leading imported product.  The tools are extremely useful as it gives trade statistics for a specific country and product, taken from national authority statistical data of over 220 countries and territories, and COMTRADE (world’s largest trade database maintained by United Nations Statistics Division).  An example output from Trade Map is data on the most important markets to which a typical product is exported to in the form of a bar chart.  This type of information is invaluable to an SME and serves as a starting point for more concentrated research into most popular exporting countries for a specific country.  This can then lead to sourcing the most desirable countries to market your technologies, and thus the most desirable countries to apply for IP rights in.

Analysis and Statistics on Filing Countries

A fantastic visual perceptive of analysing the proportion of the world’s patents granted per year for each nation is shown by means of the map below, where the size of the nation is proportional to the amount of granted patents in that nation.  It can be quickly spotted that the top filing nations are Japan, China, Germany, France, UK and the USA.  Bear in mind this may not have any relationship on the innovation and creativity occurring in many nations around the world, but rather it highlights the most popular countries where applicants go to file their patent applications.

© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

What Next?

Once a possible market has been selected, the next step is to find out contact details for the patent office of the region, and to find out requirements of filing.  Links to the majority of the world’s patent offices are given here.