20/20 Foresight

Foreign Affairs

U.S. patent only protects your product in the United States. If you want to protect your product worldwide, you can file a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application, which protects you in most major markets. The cost of a PCT patent application is $1,900. That sounds like a fair proposal, but Al Davis, a retired patent agent and long-time patent examiner, points out several problems inventors should be aware of before filing for a PCT:

Because it is a requirement that an attorney rewrite a U.S. application into PCT form, a PCT patent will cost you around $1,600 in attorney fees.

You'll spend thousands of dollars annually to maintain your patent in each country it's filed in. Most countries require maintenance fees every year vs. every 31/2 years in the United States. Total maintenance fees are more than $100,000 over the life of a patent.

The violators of your patent rights in overseas markets are more expensive to find.

The courts that enforce overseas patents may favor their own citizens and companies over foreign inventors.

Final analysis: The PCT application may be great for big companies with huge amounts of money, but still isn't a viable option for most inventors.

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 20/20 Foresight.

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