June 2018 | No. 06/2018


40 Years of PCT Operations

It is recalled that 24 January 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of Chapter I of the PCT (see PCT Newsletter No. 02/2018).  Just over four months after the entry into force of the PCT, on 1 June 1978, PCT operations began and it became possible to file PCT applications and demands for international preliminary examination.  On 1 June 2018, a celebration took place at WIPO Headquarters, at which WIPO’s Director General Francis Gurry marked 40 years of operations of the international patent system, calling the PCT a rare example of successful international cooperation, and thanking the PCT staff for the its efficient implementation.  A short, three-minute video of some of his remarks is available at:


Since operations began, the PCT has enjoyed remarkable growth. In the first six months of its existence, just 459 international patent applications were filed under the system.  Twenty-six years later (in late 2004), one million applications had been filed, and nearly 13 years after that (in February 2017) the three millionth PCT application was published. Every week, on average around 5,000 PCT applications are published in WIPO’s PATENTSCOPE database, which now includes 3.4 million international patent applications that have gone through the PCT system to date. 

During the last forty years, with just one exception (in 2009, at the height of the global economic crisis), there has been steady annual growth in the number of PCT applications filed.  In 2017, a record 243,500 PCT applications were filed, representing a 4.5% increase on figures for 2016.

Since its inception, applicants based in the United States of America have filed the largest number of PCT applications every year, filing nearly 57,000 applications in 2017 alone. But, since the early 2000s, there has been a marked increase in the use of the PCT in Asian countries and, in particular, considerable growth in its use by applicants from China.  Since 2003, China has posted PCT annual growth rates of more than 10%, and, in 2017, became the second largest user of the system.

As far as membership of the PCT is concerned, in 1991, there were 50 Contracting States, in 1999 there were 100, and today there are 152 Contracting States, meaning that most countries in the world are now part of the PCT system.

In the past 40 years, the PCT has seen many other significant changes, such as: 

  • the move from paper filing and processing to electronic filing and processing;
  • an increase in languages of publication from five to 10;
  • an increase in the number of International Authorities from five to 23; and
  • an increase in national phase entries from less than 100,000 in 1995 to 615,000 in 2017.
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