Patents were created and organized by governments around the world to motivate innovation and make information that drives technological advancement available to all. That being said, it's important to remember a few important facts about patent protection:
- A patent doesn't have an inherent ability to shield your invention from infringement. Rather, it's a government-issued certificate that gives you legal clout when your claim on intellectual property is brought under scrutiny by a court of law.
- Not all patents are created equal. A patent's strength is determined largely by the strength of its backing authority and that authority's jurisdiction within the realm of your business operations.
Because our modern market is becoming increasingly global, many clients wonder whether a US patent is the best way to go in order to get effective intellectual property protection. Will a US patent protect you from infringement overseas? If you have freedom to operate within an American market, can you also market your product abroad?
How Strong Is a US Patent?
A quick look at the USPTO's statistics chart reveals that many U.S. patents are issued to foreign entities. In fact, since 2008, the majority of U.S. patents issued each year were granted to foreign applicants. What can this tell us?
First of all, the U.S. market is incredibly strong, and individuals who want to market a product within the United States opt for protection from the USPTO, of course. But secondly, these numbers show that protection of intellectual property in the United States is alive and well. In fact, in the 2018 U.S. Chamber International IP Index, America was ranked as the top country for overall intellectual property protection, indicating that American legislation prioritizes a knowledge-based economy that awards innovation.
That being said, the U.S. is no longer a top leader in the specific category of patent law. 2017's index was the first year that the U.S. did not occupy the top spot in Category 1 of the index (which is entitled Patents, Related Rights, and Limitations.) In 2018, the U.S. dropped from #10 to #12. This is due in part to increasingly robust competition, with countries like Singapore, Ireland, and the Netherlands increasing their patent protection measures. However, it's also linked with recent legislative and judicial moves in the U.S., which you can read more about here.
What Are Your Best Options for Global IP Protection?
We can debate the relative strengths of a U.S. patent another day. However strong a patent is within the United States, it still can't protect you in overseas markets. In fact, there is no international or global patent that will grant you protection in every country. Instead, intellectual property rights are subject to each nation's laws and regulations individually. That doesn't mean, however, that you're doomed to undergo the same exhaustive process in every single country around the world in order to get global IP protection. Here are some important things to note:
- A patent isn't necessarily needed in order to market a product. It simply gives you legal backing in case disputes arise. There are other factors that will weigh on your side if you were the first to market with a specific idea. In fact, it's possible that a Freedom to Operate search will be more beneficial than a patentability search for you.
- The closest thing in existence to an international patent is a collaborative treaty between 152 contract states called the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Although an application through this treaty doesn't grant an international patent, it facilitates subsequent patent application and the establishment of priority date for your application in all cooperating states.
- A pre-existing patent in one country can contribute to your likelihood of obtaining a patent in another country. When deciding what patent or protection you should apply for, you should first examine the markets in which you believe your product will be the most profitable. A secondary consideration, however, should be the strength of patent protection within a country, especially if others encroaching on your idea will significantly compromise your profitability. For that information, you can again consult the International IP Index, or talk with an IP agent or lawyer with international experience.
Want to learn more about global patent protection? Check out our Guide to Global Patents.
When It Comes to Protecting Your Idea Globally, Knowledge Is Power
Here at Global Patent Solutions, our name reflects the scope of our access. We work with agents and individuals seeking to protect their invention both within the United States, and farther abroad. Although all of our researchers are based within the United States, our search databases and specialized techniques find information from around the world to help you understand any predecessors to your idea so that you can operate safely and frame patent applications appropriately. Contact us to learn more.