Each patent has legal force for a specific geographic region
For patent protection in China, a Chinese patent is required, for patent protection in the US, a US patent, et cetera. Furthermore, each country (or each region) has its own patent granting office with associated grant procedure. The European Patent Office grants European patents, the USPTO (United States Patent Office) grants US patents, et cetera. Thus, for patent protection in different countries, different patent granting procedures will have to be successfully completed. Fortunately, it is not necessary to initiate right from the beginning patent granting procedures in all countries/regions where ultimately patent protection is desired.
The priority system offers a solution
After filing a first patent application for a particular invention, an applicant has one year to file subsequent applications for the same invention in other countries or regions. These subsequent applications are then said to “claim priority” of the first application. The filing date of the first application is also referred to as the priority date in this context.
Because of the priority claims, the subsequent applications will be deemed to have been filed on the earlier priority date. This is beneficial for the assessment of novelty and inventiveness of the subsequent applications. Thus, an applicant can start with, for example, a Dutch patent application, wait for a first assessment from the official body and/or see whether the invention will be commercially successful, and on this basis decide whether or not to file subsequent patent applications in other countries. To illustrate, if teh first assessment of novelty by the Dutch Patent Office is negative, then it may not be useful to file subsequent applications abroad.
The priority system thus enables an applicant to keep costs low in the beginning and only prosecute international patent protection if this has any chance of success and is commercially interesting.