The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an agreement for international cooperation in the filing, searching and examination of patent applications and the dissemination of information contained in the applications.
The treaty implements the concept of filing a single international patent application which will have a legal effect of filing in the different countries bound by the treaty.
The PCT system is a patent filing system and should not be mistaken for a patent granting system. Therefore, no PCT patent or international patent is granted. The task and responsibility of granting patents remains exclusively in the hands of the patent offices of the countries where patent protection is sought.
The PCT system consolidates and streamlines patenting procedures by facilitating the filing of an international application in a single office, in one language and a single set of forms and thus reduces the costs of having to file separate applications in different countries and provides the applicant the flexibility to assess the value and export potential of his invention before committing to the national requirements and costs in each country.
Only inventions may be protected via the PCT. Design and Trademark cannot be obtained via the PCT route. A PCT application may be filed by anyone who is a national or a resident of a PCT contracting state.
When a PCT application is filed, it is then subjected to an “international search”. This search is carried out by an International Search Authority (ISA). The search results in an International Search Report (ISR) and contains details of published documents that have an effect on the patentability of the invention claimed. The ISA also prepares a written opinion on patentability.
The international search report and the written opinion are communicated by the ISA to the applicant. During this time the applicant may decide to withdraw his application if opinion in the said report makes the granting of patents unlikely. If the international is not withdrawn, it is published together with the International Search Report by the International Bureau.
The procedure under the PCT has great advantages for the applicant, the patent offices and the general public:
Under the PCT, the applicant has up to 18 months more than he has in a procedure outside the PCT to reflect on the desirability of seeking protection in foreign countries. He has enough time to appoint local patent agents in each foreign country,prepare the necessary translations and pay the national fees. An applicant can be assured that his international application which is in the form prescribed by the PCT, cannot be rejected on formal grounds by any designated Office during the national phase of the processing of the application. On the basis of the international search report or the written opinion, the applicant can evaluate the chances of his invention being patented. Furthermore,the applicant has the oppurtunity to amend the international application during the international preliminary examination before processing by the designated Offices.
Search and examination work of patent offices can be considerably reduced or virtually eliminated due to the international search report, the written opinion and, where applicable, the international preliminary examination report that accompany the international application
And lastly, since each international application is published together with an international search report, third parties are in a better position to formulate a well-founded opinion about the patentability of the claimed invention.