Paris Convention and Public Access to Patents

This year is the 125th anniversary of signing of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, one of the cornerstones of the modern international industrial property system. The treaty was signed in Paris by representatives of 11 countries on March 20, 1883. Today, there are 172 member countries.

The convention introduced many important principals to international intellectual property law. First and foremost, it required members to apply the same level of protection to nationals of other member countries as their own citizens. It also established the right of priority, a grace period for the payment of maintenance fees, and the right of the inventor to be mentioned in a patent. Less well know is its impact on the dissemination of patent information.

Article 12, which has the rather ambiguous title “Special National Industrial Property Services” requires member states to make intellectual property information available to the public. Specifically, the text of the Article states:

(1) Each country of the Union undertakes to establish a special industrial property service and a central office for the communication to the public of patents, utility models, industrial designs, and trademarks.

(2) This service shall publish an official periodical journal. It shall publish regularly:
(a) the names of the proprietors of patents granted, with a brief designation of the inventions patented;
(b) the reproductions of registered trademarks.

It’s easy today to take for granted free and reliable access to patent information. Would it have been so if the framers of the Paris Convention had not valued the importance of information dissemination? Would the public enjoy the level of access to patent, trademark and design information it has today? Probably not.

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