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Patent Laws Around the World

Many countries accept national phase patent applications based on “world patent applications” (WO publications) made under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).  The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) maintains a database of WO published international patent applications (also known as PCT applications). Many of these patent applications correspond to patents that are later granted in multiple countries, but many are never granted in any country.

Patents are specific to particular jurisdictions.  There is no such thing as an international patent, though there is a “World” patent application.

A patent is awarded by the government of a country and is valid only within its territorial boundaries. To obtain a patent that is valid in a particular country, a request must be made in that country’s patent office.  Some countries have various administrative arrangements with regional patent offices, such as the European Patent Office (EPO). Links to patent offices are listed above. No warranty is made as to the validity of any link or any country’s patent laws.

In a country in which a patent hasn’t been granted or has expired or lapsed, the claimed invention described in the patent application is free to use (in the public domain). Thus, methods and compositions that are claimed in granted patents may not actually be constrained in your country. In any case, the matters described in the patent can be a valuable source of information, regardless of whether the patent applies in your country.

However, there are many traps to be avoided. Laws in all countries that belong to WTO (World Trade Organization) require permission from a current patent-holder, not only to use the patented technology, but also to import products embodying or produced by the patented technology. An example of this is 35 USC 271, laws that have been used to stop importation into the USA of certain products made in countries where processes or parts used are not patented, because if made in the US they would have infringed US patents. Recent cases have involved computer and pharmaceutical products. There are certain narrow exceptions.  Similar laws have been used to stop importation into Europe of soybeans grown in Argentina, because although no patents were infringed in Argentina, processes used in producing the seeds were under patent in Europe.

Many countries accept patent applications based on filing within a specified period of time of patent applications “claiming priority to” patent applications made in some other country.  Those interested in using a patented technology should look at whether a patent is in force in the country of prospective use, as well as any countries where products using the technology may be imported.

© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan), www.worldmapper.org 

In the above image, the proportion of the world’s patents granted per year is represented for each nation by its size on the map.  The number of patents granted by a nation per year may have no relationship to the creativity of people living in that nation. Note that regions of the world where many innovative people live are under-represented in patenting.

The information contained in “Patent Laws Around the World” was believed to be correct at the time it was collated. New laws, policies, and precedents in case law may have resulted in changes since. Lens makes no warranty that it is correct or up to date at this time and accepts no liability for any use that might be made of it.

Updated on November 11, 2020
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