The Hague system allows you to use one application to file design patents in many countries simultaneously, but it is quirky and doesn’t work everywhere.
Thinking of filing your US design patent application outside the US? Although for some countries like Canada, China, and India, you will have to file locally, for Europe (EU), Japan, and Korea, consider using the Hague system. In either case, think fast, because the deadline is often just six months after your initial filing.
What is the Hague system? The Hague system (Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs) is a series of international treaties allowing applicants from participating countries to directly register design patents in other participating countries. If you or your company is not a resident of a participating country, you are out of luck. You must get international coverage the hard way by finding a local representative and filing with the local patent office.
The US signed up in 2015. Other countries are also in the process of joining but are not in yet. There are presently 66 countries participating. So as the map shows, coverage is still rather uneven.
The rules are not totally uniform. The drawing requirements and extent of post-filing examination can vary between countries. The EU, for example, limits design drawings to a maximum of seven views, but otherwise, acts as a registration system that doesn’t require much subsequent effort. By contrast, like the US, Japan also requires examination as well, and the applicant must thus do additional activities and pay additional fees.
Unlike US design patents, the Hague system allows for multiple related designs to be registered at the same time in one application. However for those thinking of gaming the system for US design patents, realize that the USPTO will require you to select just one design, and pay extra to examine any other versions. Still, if you are feeling indecisive, this is an interesting option to consider. However, note that the Hague system also publishes all design applications within six months of filing, while the US does not, so there can be less confidentiality.
Hague system registrations must be renewed every five years, and can generally be renewed up to a total of 15 years total coverage. By contrast, after a US design patent has issued, the USPTO will give you 15 years of coverage with no maintenance fees.
Like other patents, the USPTO will accept Hague system patent applications and forward them on to the international office in Switzerland. This should be the default method for US applicants because even design patents must pass a security review and get clearance before the applicant has permission to apply elsewhere.