How are provisional, PCT and standard patents different?

In registering a patent, there are a number of terms you’ll encounter, such as standard patents, PCTs and provisionals. What are the differences between them?

How can different kinds of patents protect your idea?

There are a number of different legal instruments and applications you can make when attempting to register a patent. It can be confusing for business owners to know what the differences are between things like standard patents, provisionals and PCTs, and whether they need to apply for them or not.

What are patents?

Broadly speaking, patents are the legal tools used to protect expressions of ideas. When someone develops something new, they want to be able to benefit from their invention commercially without risking another party with greater resources stealing the idea and doing it themselves. A patent gives its holder the legal right to stop unauthorised use of the patented technology or process in the country the patent is registered in.

Without patents, there would be a great risk that the pace of innovation seen in the world today would slow. Many a business has started with a good idea but none of the manufacturing, financial or distributional muscle to get said idea off the ground before competitors have the chance to copy it. Patents give businesses the time and space to create products and services, and introduce them to the market with greater chances of success.

What is a standard patent?

When people speak of a 'patent', most often what they're referring to is a standard patent. Long term protection of an idea is what a standard patent gives you – if granted, it lasts for 20 years (sometimes 25 for pharmaceutical products).

For a standard patent to be granted, the idea in question has to be new, useful and not simply be a refinement of already existing technologies. When an application is made to IP Australia, they will assess it for its suitability as a patent, as well as whether it meets all legislative requirements. This process can take anywhere from 6 months to several years.

What is a provisional application?

A standard patent lasts 20 years from the filing date, but applications can take some time to put together. If you have an idea but aren't quite ready for a patent application yet, you can file a provisional application, which acts a placeholder for your actual patent application. It essentially holds your place in line for 12 months (the period in which you then have to file your full application) and establishes a date for when you came up with your idea. 

In the process of applying for a standard patent, obtaining a provisional is usually the first step. Having one gives you space to refine your application further as you gain more knowledge around your invention, as well as giving you time to decide which international markets you may wish to file for patents in.

What is a PCT?

Because there is no overarching international system of patents, to protect your ideas in overseas markets you need to apply for patents in each of them you wish to enter. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) was established to make this process easier. With a PCT application, you can hold off on choosing which markets to enter for 30 months from the date of application. Once you have decided, it's a straightforward process to apply for the patents you're seeking all in one go – without a PCT, you would have to file individual applications in every single market, which could be a prohibitive cost.

Are you wanting to apply for a patent and need expert legal advice? Get in touch with the team at Alder IP today to hear how we can help.