Thursday, February 13, 2014

USPTO - US Residents Filing A Design Application under Hague Agreement?

Can US residents file an international application for a design patent?

When I first reviewed this question, I checked to see if the PCT allows for design patent applications. The PCT permits filing a single application in English that starts the process of seeking protection of the invention in many countries. Although not strictly a patent application, a PCT gives applicants an 18-month extension past the convention year to consider whether the cost of foreign filing is justified while keeping the benefit of the priority filing date.

However, the PCT does not permit filing a design application. Instead, an international design application must be filed under the Hague Agreement Concerning International Registration of Industrial Designs, 35 USC 381- 390, Title I of the Patent Law Treaty that President Obama signed into law on December 18, 2012.

It may appear a US resident can file a Hague application in the USPTO today, because 35 USC 382 states any person who is a national of the United States, has a domicile, a habitual residence, or a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment, may file an international design application in the USPTO.

However, a USPTO staff member informed he expects legislative processes to delay the ability for US residents to file Hague application until late 2014. First, the Senate must consent to a complete package of laws, since it's a Treaty. Although 35 USC 381-390 is law, the USPTO proposed rules are still open to public comments. The USPTO must review the comments and make any revisions to the proposed rules to produce the final rules. After this Senate consent requires Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommendation and 2/3 or more of Senators to vote in favor of the complete package.

Until that day, US residents may still file a Hague application in a country (i.e., Hague contracting state outside the US) if the applicant has a "real and effective industrial or commercial establishment" in the country. What's a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment is determined by that country's laws. It may not require applicant have its principal place of business in that country, but the more business activity in a country the more likely the Hague application will be valid. Thus, operation of a warehouse may not suffice, while a manufacturing factory might. A third party distributor or a subsidiary might not suffice, while applicant's sales office might. As was explained to me, "the establishment must be operated by the applicant, rather than merely with the applicant’s consent or approval" and not a "sham establishment." Finally, a Hague application on this basis would typically require engaging a foreign associate knowledgeable with the specific requirements of that country.

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