The roots of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) go back to 1966, when the Executive Committee of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property called for a study of how to reduce, for applicants and patent offices, the duplication of effort involved in filing and obtaining patent applications for the same invention in different countries. The resulting WIPO treaty, the PCT, was signed in Washington, D.C., in 1970 and entered into force in 1978. The treaty was amended in 1979, 1984, 2001, and 2004. As of September 15, 2005, there were 128 Contracting Parties to the PCT.
By simplifying patent application filing, the PCT assists innovators in obtaining patent protection throughout the world. It also encourages small businesses and individuals to seek patent protection abroad.
Under this WIPO-administered treaty, nationals or residents of a contracting state file a single patent application, called an "international" application, with their national patent office or with WIPO as a receiving office. This automatically lodges the application for patent protection in all 127 Contracting Parties of the PCT.
The treaty provides a longer period of time, 30 months, before applicants must commit themselves to undertake the expenses of translation, national filing fees, and prosecution in every country in which they want protection. By providing applicants with more time and information to evaluate the strength of their potential patent and to determine marketing plans, the 30-month period allows applicants to be more selective as to the countries in which they will file. This is a major improvement over the 12-month priority period provided under the Paris Convention for patent applicants.
Under the PCT, WIPO publishes the "international application," together with a nonbinding indication as to the potential patentability of the invention. This nonbinding indication is a preliminary search and/or examination by an "International Authority," one of 11 patent offices designated by WIPO that currently meet the treaty's minimum staffing and documentation requirements. The nonbinding indication helps applicants decide whether to proceed with their patent applications in national or regional offices. Patent offices also benefit from these nonbinding indications of patentability when deciding whether to grant national or regional patents based upon PCT applications. Foreign search reports identify relevant documents that help patent offices to conserve resources in the examination process and to improve the quality of examination.