Gaps in the International Patent System

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend who practices IP law in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He mentioned, to my surprise, that Argentina was not a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This stunned me, because Argentina is a large sophisticated country, and I assumed they would be a part of the PCT, because nearly every country in the world is a part of the PCT.

The International Patent System

A large part of the “international patent system” has to do with the PCT. The PCT makes it easier for people and entities to seek coverage for their inventions in multiple countries at the same time. As of December 8, 2016, there are 151 PCT Contracting States. So, how many countries are not a part of the PCT?

For purposes of this post I am using the list of United Nations member states. According to that list, the United Nations has 193 Member States, which means there are forty-two non-PCT states. Some of these countries make sense, Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, some make no sense, Argentina. Who are these non-contracting states, and what are their economies like?

The Non-Contracting States

As of January 12, 2017, there are forty-two countries which have not signed on to the PCT. These countries range from the small to the surprisingly large. Many of the countries do not have a ton of economic activity, and conversely a few have considerable economic activity.

Using data from the World Bank, the chart above plots all forty-two of the Non-PCT countries in the world by population in millions along the x-axis, and gross domestic product (GDP) in billions along the y-axis. I’ve called out some interesting outliers on this chart. Argentina, my friend’s home country, has the largest economy with a GDP of 581 billion to the country’s population of 43.4 million. Conversely, Pakistan is the most populous nation of the group at 271 million, but only has a GDP of 188.9 billion.

Only five of the countries have a GDP over 100 billion (Argentina, Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, and Venezuela), and only five of the countries have a population over 50 million (Bangladesh, Congo, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Pakistan). The full list of countries is presented below.

What the Future Holds

Of the countries listed, Argentina seems like the most likely candidate to join the PCT. In fact, my friend told me Argentina plans to join the PCT soon. The rest of the countries, I am not so sure. Negotiating an international treaty is cost intensive in both time and money. Frankly, many of these countries have much more important issues to contend with than patent rights.