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Patent rights are territorial. United States patents only grant exclusive rights within the United States and its territories. If an applicant wishes to secure patent rights in another country, a patent application must be filed in that country. For most foreign countries, a foreign patent application may be filed within 1 year of an initial U.S. filing and be treated as if it was filed on the same date as the U.S. filing.

To preserve the right to file a patent application in numerous different countries that are members to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, a PCT application can be filed. A PCT application will not result directly in issuance of a patent based on examination of the PCT application. The PCT application can, however, preserve the right to file a utility patent application based on the PCT application in a number of different countries at the same time. This gives a filer more than the typical 12 month time period for making a foreign filing decision in those countries. In some cases, a PCT application can provide as much as a 30 month or 31 month time period for filing a patent application in different countries. Further, as part of the PCT application process, the application can undergo examination by an international searching authority that is selected by the applicant. The search results of the PCT application can be used to help assess the scope of protection that may be afforded that patent application. Because not all countries are members of the PCT, applicants should consider their filing goals early and not wait until after the PCT application has been filed.