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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

FAQ: Do I Need Overseas Patent Protection?


Many inventors believe that they ought to be concerned with international protection, right off the bat. It’s always good to be aware of what can be done to preserve the option to apply for international rights to intellectual property, at a later time. But, it is seldom necessary to pursue them with domestic rights, all at once. You should understand how powerful US patent protection can be.

Let’s say you patent a great product in the states. Well, once that patent gets issued and published, it serves as prior art (a defense, if you will) against anyone who would want to acquire a patent for the same product in another country. So, not only are your rights secured for the US, you also keep others from getting a patent on it in other countries.

What if someone files for the same product in another country before my US patent gets issued? Then they may get their own patent for it in that country. If that would be a concern, then you would want to consider publishing your patent application as soon as possible, so that the publication itself can serve to protect you from overseas competition. In fact, you wouldn’t even need to file for a US patent to do that. Any public printed material describing your product (including internet content) will serve to prevent others from getting a patent anywhere in the world for the same product, in simple terms.

Then why do I even need a US Patent? Well, you eventually need a patent somewhere to do business. Most US residents are naturally interested in US patent protection. However, you could just as well get a patent in Germany, for example, and it would keep anyone in the US from getting a patent on it (provided that the German filing gets published there before anyone else files for the US patent on it.) In this example, you would still be able to sell your product in the states. But, you wouldn’t be able to prevent anyone else from selling it in the states either.

Then why would I want that situation? Because in the real world of commerce, manufacturers are reluctant to take big risks without the prospect of a stronghold in the marketplace. Let’s say you owned a US patent on your product, and it was the only patent in the world for that product. And, say you had it mass-produced in the US, or somewhere else. The chances are good that you would enjoy a worldwide monopoly on it, simply because you’re entitled to produce it somewhere without competition. From a business perspective, foreign companies would be reluctant to compete with you, because they would have too much to lose. Even if they did compete with you in other countries, you would still enjoy a monopoly in the states.

Does this apply in every case? No, a lot depends on the product itself. If you have a great idea for a simple product that’s very easy to make, which seems like it would be popular all over the world, then you may very well want to consider maintaining the option to file for international protection. The decision to pursue overseas protection wouldn’t need to be made right away, though. The important thing to remember about it is that you would not want to sell, or make anything public about your product before you have secured US patent rights, or before you initiated the process to acquire international rights (to be safe).

Happy Halloween!