The Paris Convention

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The International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, was first signed in Paris in 1883 by an initial 11 states, and ratified in 1884. Countries that did so formed themselves into a “Union” of patenting authorities, and are sometimes referred to as the “Paris Union.” The document itself is known as the “Paris Convention” for short.[1][2] The convention has been revised many times during its long life, and its current language encompasses patents, trademarks, and industrial designs. As of November 2008, there were 173 contracting parties to the Paris Convention, as listed by WIPO on their website. Although such assessments are somewhat subjective, it can be confidently said that the list includes all major patenting authorities, including the trilateral offices of the United States, Europe, and Japan.

The Paris Convention established some important international protocols to deal with multi-national patent filings. It both protects some rights of those who file international applications, and governs procedure for how signatory states should treat these patent filings. Most importantly, the Paris Convention included the vital concept of “priority". This means that under the Paris Convention, patent applicants are granted the date of their first filing as the active application date for patent applications in all additional Paris Union countries, for up to 12 months after filing the original application. In other words, this means that if an inventor wants to obtain patent protection in multiple Paris Convention countries, he/she needs only to file an application in one of those countries, and the filing date of the first application will be honored and taken as the effective filing date of any other Paris Union country applications that are filed within the next 12 months. This allows inventors to get their international patent filings done over a yearlong period, as opposed to rushing to complete many international patent filings as quickly as possible after the initial invention is completed.

One extremely helpful effect of the Paris Convention’s “priority” rule is that it has created a single date, and application number, which will act as an identifying number for all related patent publications stemming from the initial filing. This priority data is used today to group international patents into patent families, a useful concept that can help prevent patent searchers from duplicating their efforts when performing a prior art investigation. However, although patenting authorities have recognized the right to priority since the Convention was ratified, patent offices did not always historically include priority data on their published patent documents, which means that priority-based family databases can only extend back to the mid 1900s at best.

Another useful function of the Paris Convention treaty is that it contains provisions to ensure that intellectual property holders who are non-residents and non-nationals of a Paris Union country are given the same expectations and rights under the law as nationals of said country. This idea, known as “national treatment,”[3] requires Paris Union countries to show no preferential treatment to patent holders who are citizens versus those who are not. This long-held provision normalized patent practices across international lines, removing any economic uncertainty that outsiders might have faced when attempting to gain intellectual property rights in foreign countries. This normalization has made matters slightly easier for searchers (especially researchers looking to determine industry and patenting trends) by long ago removing many intangible disincentives that could have prevented inventors from obtaining international patents.

The rest of the content of the Paris Convention is of great interest to those in patent law, but is not directly applicable to searching concerns. The full text of the Convention (after multiple revisions) can be accessed at the WIPO website.


  1. Adams, Stephen R. Information Sources in Patents, 2nd Ed. Munich: K.G. Saur. 2006. Page 7.
  2. Bodenhausen, G. C. H. Guide to the Application of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property As Revised at Stockholm in 1967. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization, BIRPI; February 1, 1968. Google Books,,M1. Accessed on November 18, 2008.
  3. Bodenhausen, G. C. H. Guide to the Application of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property As Revised at Stockholm in 1967. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization, BIRPI; February 1, 1968. Google Books,,M1. Accessed on November 18, 2008.

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