Protecting your intellectual property abroad

Protecting patents abroad

Guide

A patent only protects your invention in the country where the patent is registered. A UK patent for your invention applies in the UK only.

If you plan to sell or license your invention abroad, you should consider applying for protection abroad. If you don't, anyone can legally make, use or sell your invention overseas.

    European patent protection

    To protect your patent in more than 30 countries in Europe, you can apply using the European Patent Convention (EPC).

    You can apply:

    Your application will be processed as a single application, it will undergo a single search and examination process, but once granted it becomes separate patents in the countries you designate.

    If you only want protection in a few European countries, you can get protection by applying to the national patent office in those countries. 

    You can claim priority from an existing patent application if you apply abroad within 12 months of your original application. Your later application will be treated as if you applied on the same date as the original application.

    You can also get protection in Europe using the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). This is available through the UK IPO, the EPO or the World Intellectual Property Organization.

    You may have to file translations of your patent application in order to obtain patent protection in certain countries.

    Find out more about applying for European patents.

    EU Exit does not affect the UK's membership of the European Patent Convention. You can continue to file applications as previously. Existing patents are also unaffected. See: changes to patent law from 1 January 2021.

    International patent protection

    You can protect your invention in many international countries using the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). A PCT application is initially processed as a single application. You will receive an international search report and written opinion. Your application is published around 18 months from the earliest priority date. You then have to process your application separately in each country.

    If you are a UK, Gibraltar or Guernsey resident or national, you may file your international application with the UK IPO or the EPO. You may also file direct to the World Intellectual Property Organization, who administer the PCT.

    If you file your application with the UK IPO, they will forward it to a PCT international search authority which for them is the EPO. The search authority will then:

    • carry out a search
    • provide you with an opinion on the patentability of your invention
    • publish your application as soon as possible after 18 months from the priority date

    After publication you can file a request for an international preliminary examination. The examination is optional, but it should help you decide whether to pursue the patent granting procedure in each of the contracting states in which you wish to get protection.

    Detailed information on the PCT process is outlined in the guide to the PCT.

    You can also download the IPO's PCT guide for private applicants (PDF, 2.9MB).

    A PCT application has the same effect as a regular patent filing in each of the national or regional offices of the PCT contracting states that you designate when you file.

    EU Exit does not affect the UK's membership of the Patent Cooperation Treaty. You can continue to file applications as previously. Existing patents are also unaffected. See: changes to patent law from 1 January 2021.

    Getting help

    Patent law is complex and it can be difficult to obtain a patent abroad. You should consider seeking advice from a patent attorney or other professional adviser. Search for a patent attorney in your area.