Are your classification searches incomplete? (UPDATED)

You may have heard that the US Patent and Trademark Office recently issued two classification orders that affect US classes 210, Liquid Purification or Separation, and 707, Data Processing: Database File Management or Data Structures.  (Michael White over at the Patent Librarian’s Notebook recently had a write-up of the event with some interesting statistics.)  However, searchers beware:  although the classification systems may have been re-designed, the re-classification effort may not yet be completed for these classes. Further complicating matters, your patent search vendor may not have yet received or loaded the new class designations for the affected patents that have been reclassified.

In this digital age, it’s easy to assume that major changes in classification structures will be quickly implemented into database backfiles, and that our workaday patent subscription search engines will be updated almost instantaneously.  After all, the USPTO’s Classification Schedule has already been updated (try searching for abolished subclasses 210/748, or 707/203, for example)!

However, there seems to be some evidence that the re-classification effort is not complete, and that as a result, patent databases aren’t yet reflecting these new class divisions.   As for how the actual classification work is progressing,  this is what the UPSTO’s classification order for class 707 had to say on the subject:

Note: Subclasses 707/600-831 were established as a result of the reclassification of 707/1-206 in January 2010. Documents from abolished subclasses 707/1-206 are in the process of being reclassified. Documents from 707/1-206 have been temporarily transferred to cross-reference art collections (XRACs) 707/999.001-999.206, pending completion of the reclassification of all documents in the abolished subclasses.

So how much of this work has actually been completed?  Out of curiosity, we ran some test strings in several major subscription search tools, including Thomson Innovation, TotalPatent, PatBase, and orbit.com.  First, we checked for the presence of documents in the newly established classification areas.  If you want to run the experiment on your own system, we suggest checking the new 600 series of subclasses from class 707 against the abolished subclasses in the low 200′s.  In our results, we found that each system had only dozens of records classified in the newly established subclasses, most issued since the classification orders took effect.  By contrast, the search systems showed thousands of records bearing only the abolished subclasses as their main class codes, and presumably waiting to be updated with their new classification information.

This suggests that the complete re-classification efforts have not yet been completed, so we tried to check whether it would be worthwhile to use the cross-reference art collection codes to search for these documents in the meantime.  As it turns out, based on a quick test, PatBase, TotalPatent, and orbit.com did not seem to support these temporary cross-reference art collection codes, while Thomson Innovation did appear to support these classifications (UPDATE: per a note we received from Product Director Richard Garner on 4/27/2010, TotalPatent also appears to supports these classes when they are searched using the system’s command language from the Advanced Search form).  Below are the results of a test search conducted on April 26, 2010.  The syntax used is provided, as well as the number of search hits obtained.

707/999* in Thomson Innovation, US granted patents only from 01/01/2004 – over 17,000 results

707/999! in TotalPatent, US granted patents only from 01/01/2004 -  689 results UPDATE:  over 17,000 results when formulating your search query as a general search using the TotalPatent command language (original test search using the US Class limiter field in the Advanced Search form produced 689 results).

707999+ in orbit.com, family database with no date limitations – 21 results

UC=(707/999*) in PatBase, family database with no date limitations – 21 results

Now, bear in mind that this is a rather unscientific test, and that  it’s hard to know exactly what reclassification work has actually been completed since January.  We’ve also heard from at least one patent search vendor that they’ve received some updated classification information from the USPTO, and now it’s just a matter of implementing the backfile updates.  However, it’s clear that if you’re searching any of the affected classes, it will pay to be careful of the recent changes.  It may even be best to run independent search strings using the outdated classification codes, the cross reference art collection codes, and the newly introduced classification codes (which will be present on all documents that have been issued since the reclassification orders took effect).

Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Intellogist team member Kristin Whitman.

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5 Responses

  1. Although classification orders are issued as reclassification projects are completed, the USPTO updates the classification data in its databases on a bimonthly schedule. At least that was the practice up until the end of 2004 when they stopped including this information on the PatFT Notices and Status page, http://patft.uspto.gov/help/status.htm.

  2. Thanks Michael, it’s actually always been a matter of curiosity to me how this data is shipped around. From time to time I come across something that makes it sound like some electronic data products still actually get sent on CD ROM (for example, hence the recent notice from the EPO about some data products being delayed by the Icelandic volcano). However in the EPO’s case I know that they maintain the OPS server and I thought I read that updates to some EPO data products can be downloaded that way. The actual mechanics of it are sort of a mystery to me.

  3. I don’t often use the USPC but when I classify by the IPC I ensure that I am searching all relevant classes for the period I’m searching in. For example infringement searches need to go back to the late 80s at present. The subject matter may be in a subclass from IPC 7 so I have to go back and get the equivalent subclass from IPC 4 or 5 just in case reclassification hasn’t happened when it should have.
    I know PatBase for example allow you to search the older classes but that’s no good if you haven’t classified your subject matter for them.

  4. Great point, I know that IPC-8 was supposed to extend back to the earliest days of the European and WO collections, bringing the IPCs 1-7 up to date, but it’s never a perfect process. I believe that it was done through a concordance process rather than done by hand. Do you come across lots of documents that have lost the meaning of their IPC 4 and 5 classes and show something totally different in IPC 8?

  5. It’s not something I’ve ever looked for so I don’t know the extent of the potential problem.
    Reclassification by concordance rather than by hand will always be a problem where the old class has been expanded to a number of new classes because you need a human to do the separation of subject matters so searching for the old class as well as what you expect to be the new class will bypass any errors generated by misclassification by concordance methods.
    I think adjusting a search strategy to get around something that might be wrong is sad but necessary. It’s one of those things that make searching a black art.

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