As the saying goes, you never know when inspiration might strike.  That being said, you also have no control over where your creative juices start flowing.

In today’s interconnected world, innovative ideas and inventions can originate from anywhere, including the high seas.  But what happens when an inventor creates something remarkable while offshore, for example aboard a ship or an oil rig in international waters? Can they obtain patent protection for their invention worldwide, regardless of where the invention was conceived?

This article explores the complexities surrounding patent protection for inventions made offshore, potential challenges to inventors and innovative companies, and the importance of seeking appropriate advice.

Applying for a Patent Anywhere in the World

The good news for inventors is that patent protection can be sought globally, regardless of the location where the invention was conceived.  The ability to apply for patent protection is not contingent on where an invention is first developed even if this is in international waters.

Even better, international patent law, governed by treaties such as the Paris Convention, guarantees patent applicants who file patent applications in foreign countries equal treatment to nationals in these countries.

Equally, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is a centralised mechanism that allows a single “international” patent application initially to be filed.  Using this “PCT” mechanism patent protection can be pursued in 157 countries across the globe, simplifying the process for obtaining worldwide patent protection.

Irrelevance of Ship’s Flag State

When it comes to patent protection for inventions made offshore, the flag state of the vessel or platform on which the innovation occurs is generally not a determining factor. The flag state refers to the country under whose laws the vessel or platform is registered and operates. However, as mentioned, patent protection is not restricted to the flag state. Instead, patent applicants have the flexibility to choose where they wish to apply for patent protection.

Restrictions on “First Filing”

While the option to seek patent protection globally exists, care must be taken as many countries impose restrictions on where inventors can first file their patent applications. 

For instance, certain countries have laws that prevent patent applications for inventions conceived in those countries from being filed overseas until they have either filed an application inside their borders or obtained a “foreign filing licence” granting an exception to the rule.  Failure to adhere to these legal requirements can result in penalties such as the invalidation of resulting patents, fines and in extreme cases imprisonment. 

However, frustratingly, the people to which these restrictions apply varies from country to country.  Rules in some countries apply to their respective residents.  In others, the law applies to all citizens, even if they are living abroad.  Finally, there are other countries where the rules apply to the inventors of any invention made within the country, regardless of their nationality or residence. 

A well-thought-out filing strategy is therefore essential to ensure that an international filing strategy meets these overlapping requirements.

Seeking Advice from a Patent Attorney

Given the intricacies of international patent law and the variations in patent application requirements across different jurisdictions, inventors are strongly advised to consult a qualified patent attorney. With the right guidance and strategic planning, inventors can safeguard their intellectual property and gain the recognition and benefits they deserve for their innovative contributions, no matter where their inventive journey begins.

The patent experts at GJE are highly experienced in drafting and prosecuting patent applications globally.  We can provide you with tailored advice on the most appropriate strategy for obtaining international patent protection.

For more articles regarding patent protection for marine technology, including discussion on the territorial extent of patent protection and funding opportunities for innovative companies in the maritime sector, please see our other recent articles here.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues discussed above or get advice on your intellectual property, please contact the author directly, or any of GJE’s patent attorneys at