Patents displayed at international exhibits

There are certain considerations you will need to make if you are either:

  • organising an international technology exhibition, trade fair or similar event or
  • planning to show an invention at such an event either in Australia or elsewhere.

In Australia and most other countries, if an invention has been made public (including being displayed to the public at an exhibition) before a patent application has been made, a valid patent cannot be granted for that invention.

However, the Australian Patents Act 1990 (the Act) allows for exceptions to this if the invention is displayed at an 'international exhibition'.

An 'international exhibition' is defined as one which lets in products and exhibits from other countries. Two categories of international exhibitions are recognised in the Act:

  1. An official or officially recognised international exhibition
  2. An international exhibition recognised by the Commissioner of Patents.

In some circumstances, if you have disclosed your invention by mistake before you file an application you may be still be covered by the grace period.

1. An official or officially recognised international exhibition

The protection given to applicants for the display of their inventions at these exhibitions is generally recognised internationally.

Brisbane's World Expo 88 was an example of this category of exhibition in Australia. Only a national Government can apply to the Bureau of International Expositions to stage such an event.

2. An international exhibition recognised by the Commissioner of Patents

An international exhibition recognised by the Commissioner will meet the requirements of the Act, but will not necessarily be recognised as an international exhibition by other countries.

You can request the Commissioner recognise an exhibition by writing to us. When the Commissioner recognises an exhibition a notice is published in the Australian Official Journal of Patents before the beginning of the event.

The Commissioner will recognise exhibitions which:

  • are held in Australia
  • have an emphasis on innovation
  • are international in nature
  • are not essentially commercial in nature.

When making a request you will need to include sufficient information to satisfy the Commissioner that the exhibition meets these requirements.

With the requirement that the exhibition be 'international', showing that foreign exhibitors have been invited may be enough. It is not necessary that foreign products are actually exhibited.

Before formally recognising an exhibition, the Commissioner will require the organisers of the exhibition to advise all exhibitors in writing, at least two weeks before the exhibition that:

  • while the exhibition has been recognised by the Commissioner of Patents for the purposes of patents in Australia, the exhibition has not been recognised by other countries
  • any exhibitor contemplating filing a patent application for their invention in another country should make sure a patent application for the invention is filed, at least in Australia, before their invention is exhibited
  • any exhibitor thinking about filing a patent application for their invention should consult a professional adviser, such as a registered patent attorney, before their invention is exhibited
  • any publicity that makes reference to the exhibition being recognised by the Commissioner, must state that the recognition only applies in Australia.

Applying for a patent following an exhibition

To obtain a patent in Australia and take advantage of the provisions relating to exhibitions, you must generally file the application within 12 months after it was first shown at a recognised exhibition.

There are two exceptions to this:

  • When the standard or innovation patent application claims priority from an overseas application. In this case, the overseas application must have been filed within six months from the time the invention was first shown at a recognised exhibition. The Australian application will need to be filed in within 12 months of the overseas application.
  • When the standard or innovation patent application is associated with a provisional application. In this case, the provisional application must have been filed within six months from the time the invention was first shown at a recognised exhibition. The standard or innovation application will need to be filed within 12 months of the provisional application.

Filing requirements

You must:

  • file a notice stating that the invention has been exhibited
  • file a statement issued by the authority responsible for the exhibition. This statement must be supplied prior to the specification of a standard patent application becoming open to public inspection, or within six months of the filing date of an innovation patent application. The statement should include:
    • identification of the invention and the exhibition
    • the date the exhibition opened
    • the date the invention was disclosed (if it wasn’t disclosed on the opening day).

Publication of the invention

If an invention is shown at an international exhibition, details of it must be published while the exhibition is running. However, the publication does not need to occur at the exhibition.

An advertisement of the invention which appeared in a newspaper during the exhibition would be considered a relevant publication. It is important that the invention is not disclosed before the exhibition.

To obtain patents in other countries, an intellectual property professional should be consulted, as the requirements relating to public disclosure and international exhibitions vary from country to country.

Last updated: 
30 May 2016