To initiate the study a questionnaire was prepared providing background information in relation to the operation and effect of the provisions of Article 4A(1) of the Paris Convention (PC) and setting out 16 questions framed to obtain information about requirements and procedures for transferring priority rights in accordance with these provisions.
The questionnaire was primarily concerned with the filing of a patent application (the “Later application”) claiming priority from an original priority setting application (the “Priority application”) made in an originating country that is a signatory to the Paris Convention, in circumstances where the applicant of the Later application is different from the applicant of the Priority application. For the priority claim made in the Later application to be effective it is important to ensure that the priority rights are transferred to the applicant of the Later application by the applicant of the Priority application. The questionnaire examined several issues associated with the effective transfer of priority rights, including:
i) The general requirements for transferring a priority right from the applicant of the Priority application to another party;
ii) Whether an applicant who has no rights in the Priority application can be included in a Later application claiming priority from the Priority application;
iii) Whether the right to claim priority can be treated separately from rights in the invention and rights to the Priority application;
iv) What rights are needed at the time of filing a Later application, and for obtaining a patent with a valid priority claim in respect of that application;
v) Whether, in the case of a Priority application with multiple applicants, each applicant has an individual priority right or the priority right is owned jointly by all applicants, and the circumstances under which the priority right (or the portions belonging to respective co-applicants) can be assigned to a third party;
vi) Whether employment contracts are effective in transferring priority rights in the case of a single applicant, and in the case of multiple applicants with potentially different employment contracts;
vii) The law that is applicable to the determination of the effectiveness of a priority right transfer, particularly when the invention is made and/or the transfer occurs over multiple countries; and
viii) In the case where a single application is filed for multiple inventions, the circumstances under which the priority right can be separated between the inventions and the inventors of each respective invention.
The questionnaire also examined whether there are differences in the requirements for the transfer of priority rights for national phase applications made under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (a PCT application).
While the full Report of the study is available <here>, the results can be summarized as follows.
It appears that the right to claim priority from an earlier filed Priority application is not limited to the applicant of the Priority application, and may be held by the assignee of the Priority application, or the assignee of the right to claim priority.
In general, the mere consent of the applicant of the Priority application is not sufficient to enable a person who is not the assignee of the Priority application, or of the associated right to priority, to obtain the priority right. It appears that a contribution of patentable subject matter to the Later application will, in most countries, enable an applicant of this Later application to obtain the right to claim priority from a Priority application in circumstances where the person does not otherwise possess rights in the Priority application itself. The act of making the application jointly with the owner of the priority rights can imply assignment of those rights to the extent that such assignment may be necessary. However, such a priority claim will only be valid in respect of subject matter that is disclosed in both the Priority and Later applications.
Many countries recognize a practical separation between the right to claim priority from a Priority application, rights in the Priority application, and rights to the invention the subject of the Priority application, even in the absence of any specific legislative provisions or case law to support the independence of these rights. Countries where these rights appear to be inseparable include the United States, Canada, Peru and Singapore.
Although rights in the invention appear to be generally required for a person to obtain the grant of a valid patent, in many countries these rights are not required to file the Later application. In such countries, the retroactive acquisition of the rights in the invention after filing the Later application, and before the grant of a patent on this application, generally allows a valid patent to be obtained. Exceptions include the United Kingdom, and the United States and Canada where rights to the invention are required to file the Later application. However, some other countries do not permit rights in the invention to be obtained at a time after filing the Later application for the grant of a patent with a valid priority claim.
It appears that the right to claim priority must be possessed by the applicant of the Later application at the time of filing in order to enable the grant of a patent with a valid priority claim. The priority right cannot typically be acquired retroactively to allow a valid patent to be granted in respect of a Later application with its priority claim intact.
Generally, where there are multiple applicants of a Priority application the priority right must be exercised by the co-applicants jointly. A minority of countries, including Brazil, China, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the United States, permit individual co-applicants to claim priority independently. The transfer of a co-applicant’s ‘share’ of the joint priority right to a third party typically requires, at least, the consent of all other co-applicants, and in some countries is not possible even when such consent is available.
Provisions included within employment contracts are generally effective in transferring priority rights in an application filed by, or on behalf of, a single employee, provided that the application relates to an invention made in the course of, or as a consequence of, the employee’s employment. However, in some countries the priority rights must be separately assigned to the employer by the employee filing the Priority application. Additionally, when the Priority application has multiple applicants the effectiveness of the employment contract provisions for transferring priority rights varies based on jurisdiction.
When determining whether a transfer of priority rights involving multiple jurisdictions is effective, most countries prioritize the law of the country where the assignment was executed, or the law of the country that is specified in the assignment. Due to the absence of any international legal authority or substantial consensus regarding this issue, applicants anticipating the possibility of a priority rights transfer across multiple jurisdictions should proceed cautiously.
Finally, it appears that separate Later applications can generally be filed for each invention disclosed within a single Priority application. Although the priority right can be split between the different inventions in many jurisdictions, some notable exceptions include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Greece, Romania and the United States where the priority right is coupled to the application.