Those countries that adhere to the Washington Treaty cooperate together concerning the filing, search and examination of patent applications for inventions.
The procedure for the international PCT (Patent Co-operation Treaty) system facilitates obtaining patent protection in Contracting States by filing a single international application which has the same effect as a regular filing in each designated State.
The PCT procedure, comprising an International Phase and subsequent Regional and National Phases, does not eliminate the need to follow the procedure for granting patents in the individual National Offices but it does facilitate this process in many respects.
The International Phase starts with the Applicant filing a single international patent application which can be done directly or, alternatively, within the priority terms of 12 months from the filing of a related basic national application. With this international filing, all States adhering to the PCT Treaty can be automatically designated, or less than five States can be designated.
This designation can be successively restricted, since the Applicant is not obliged to carry out the extension in all designated States, but only in those which he deems to be of interest, when the Regional/National Phase starts.
The international phase continues with the execution, by authoritative relative agencies, of a worldwide patent search on the state of the art (the search is conducted by the International Search Authority (ISA) through, for example, the European Patent Office).
The ISA that conducts the search, when issuing the search report, also sends to the Applicant a preliminary judgement on the patentability of the invention, expressing an opinion on the fulfilment of the novelty and inventive activity requirements.
This preliminary judgement enables the Applicant to evaluate the possibility of continuing the procedure, if the basis to obtain the granting of a valid patent exists, or of abandoning it, thereby relinquishing the related exclusive rights.
The international PCT application is published 18 months after the priority date, or the filing date whichever is later, along with the search report (but without the preliminary patentability judgement).
After that the Applicant has received the search report, the PCT procedure also involves:
a) a preliminary international examination to be requested within 3 months from the receipt of the search report, or within 22 months from the priority date, whichever is later, which consists of an adversarial due process with the Examiner, to change the text of the international patents with the amendments required to achieve the granting of a positive patentability judgement, in light of the priorities which emerged from the search report.
Starting this phase is at the Applicant's discretion, so it is optional and its commencement is strictly linked to the content of the documents which emerged from the Research Report, in comparison with the technical solution of the patent application of the procedure.
In any case, the international examination phase ends with the start of the regional/national phases to be carried out generally within 30 months from the priority date (31 months for the regional phase related to the European Patent).
b) the start, without filing a preliminary examination, of the regional/national phases is generally within 30 months from the priority date by: filing the translations of the international patent application in the official language of each individual country (national phase) or organization (regional phase); paying the prescribed fees; and electing an authorized Agent for each State of interest for the Applicant, selected from among those designated upon filing.
Following commencement of the national/regional phases, the patent grant procedure continues at the individual patent offices of the countries/designated organizations.
The individual Patent Offices, after determining the fulfilment or not of the patentability requirements, will grant or deny corresponding national patents following the procedures dictated by the laws of each individual country/organization