- The Basics
- Approximate Costs
- Patent Lingo
- The Need for Confidentiality
- Process & Timelines
There are more than 200 patent-granting countries around the world, and you could easily go broke if you filed for a patent in every one of them (although your patent agent would likely be very very happy). In practicality, you’ll have to make some hard decisions based on your business model, technology, competitors and budget on where you should file and what mechanisms to use.
All patents are granted by a country, although there are so-called regional patents in areas such as Europe with a European Patent which allow you to file for patent protection in a number of countries within a region and do most of the work on a regional basis. Even so, when you are finished with the regional process, you will be asked to formally elect the particular countries in the region you want a patent for, and will have to comply with that country’s requirements, including paying national fees.
The first and most obvious place you’ll want to think about the country in which you conduct business, as well as (or possibly), where your competitors might be located and where your patent may need to be enforced. In some cases, this is pretty easy. If your technology is in the automotive field, for example, it is a pretty good bet that both you and your competitors will have to build a plant of some sort to produce the product covered by your invention. These plants are expensive to build and maintain and generally hard to move and to hide. On the other hand, if your product is a computer program, the can be a much greater challenge as software companies are able to set up anywhere there is an internet connection. Even if you track them down and force them to shut down in that jurisdiction, it is relatively easy, quick and inexpensive to move to another country and set up shop there.
Another consideration is where your market is situated. Obtaining a patent in this jurisdiction may allow you to disrupt your competitor’s ability to sell the patented technology. Sometimes, a country is important not because the customer resides there, but because it represents a chokepoint for distribution of the product. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands are significant ports of entry for products into Europe.
In some technology fields, certain countries are considered to be central hubs of technology where the key inventors work and the key developments are made. As an example, Germany is often considered for chemicals and Canada for natural resources like mining, petrochemical extraction, forestry and pulp and paper.
Finally, there are certain jurisdictions where a lot of patents are filed. These jurisdictions, including the US and Japan, have well-developed patent databases that make it easier to find prior art (or to show that no prior art exists) and court systems that facilitate enforcement efforts and provide generous remedies.