Foreign Patent Offices

The issuance of a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office provides patent protection to an inventor only within the United States. Because each country has its own patent laws, neither other countries do not provide patent protection to a U.S. patentee, nor does the United States provide patent protection to a foreign patentee. Originally, if a U.S. inventor wished to obtain patent protection in other countries, he or she was required to obtain patents from each country in which patent protection was desired, which obviously entailed substantial time and expense. However, under the Paris Convention, international cooperation has streamlined the process of obtaining patents in other countries in many cases.

Paris Convention

The first international treaty applying to patents was the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (Paris Convention), which was first signed in 1883. Countries that signed the Paris Convention (“party countries”) were required to make their patent laws available to inventors from other party countries. However, although the filing process of each party country was available to inventors from other party countries, inventors still had to go through the patent filing process to obtain patent protection. Finally, in the mid-20th century, a number of regional patent offices were established.

Regional Patent Offices

Regional patent offices are patent offices within a separate region or country and are the subject of regional treaties. Although each region has its own rules, the regional patent offices provide a single patent filing system for all member countries. The patent applicant chooses the member countries from which he or wishes patent protection. A patent issued by a regional office generally confers upon the patentee the same protection as would be provided under the individual laws of the party countries. The European Patent Office (EPO), founded in 1973, originally provided centralized patent processing for about 20 European countries. Former members of the Soviet Union later joined the European Patent Convention, which governs the EPO. As of 2004, the European Patent Office represented 28 countries, with several more countries expected to join. In addition, five other countries recognize patents issued by the EPO but are not members of the EPO.

There are several other regional patent offices, some of which are smaller organizations made up of members of the EPO. There are two regional patent offices in Africa: the African Regional Industrial Property Organization (ARIPO), and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), which each have 16 members. Applicants to ARIPO receive national patents for each of the member countries in which patent protection is sought. The OAPI provides a uniform patent law for all member countries that is applied by all courts of its member countries, and an OAPI patent application automatically seeks patent protection from all its member countries. Also in the OAPI, existing patent protections may be extended to new countries that join the OAPI.

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