WIPO’s PCT publishes 3 millionth international patent application

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

In February 2017, WIPO published the 3 millionth international application under its Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This milestone in the history of the international patent system and WIPO is yet another indication that, amid a great deal of economic uncertainty, the global knowledge economy is thriving.


Since the PCT became operational in 1978, it has enjoyed remarkable growth. It took 26 years to reach one million international applications in late 2004, but less than 12 years to reach the three million mark. Apart from a blip in 2009 – the only year in which filings fell – PCT use has grown every year. In 2015, a record 218,000 international applications were filed under the system, with provisional figures for 2016 showing another year of strong growth.

About the 3 millionth published international application

The 3 millionth international application published on February 2, 2017, was filed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V. (Fraunhofer), one of the world’s leading international applied research organizations. Fraunhofer is a major user of the PCT, averaging almost 300 international applications under the PCT over the last five years. The invention described in the application (WO/2017/017579), developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute, HHI, one of Fraunhofer’s 69 institutes across Germany, combines Fraunhofer HHI’s expertise in two areas, namely terahertz radiation, which is a powerful imaging technology, and high-speed electronic data transmission. The invention, known as a “Vector Network Analyzer”, is an innovative terahertz measuring system that packages the transmitting and receiving units for terahertz radiation into a tiny sensor head measuring just 25 mm by 35 mm. The invention has practical applications in materials testing and components inspection. While terahertz technology has been around for some time, for many years it was considered too expensive, bulky and difficult to use. Fraunhofer HHI’s invention promises to change this and to give “terahertz technology a decisive boost”. Made from standard, low-cost components, it makes it much cheaper and easier to test the viability of materials and components, such as plastic tubes.

What the PCT does

Companies and inventors like Fraunhofer use the PCT because it makes it easier and more cost-effective for them to seek patent protection for their inventions in international markets. By the end of January 2017, 151 countries had signed up to it. A single international patent application under the PCT System has legal effect in all the other countries bound by the Treaty.

It offers users a number of advantages. In particular, they can postpone the significant costs associated with...

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