Unified Patent Classification One Step Closer to Reality

In an effort under the IP5 forum (Five IP Offices) banner, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have agreed to move forward on jointly developing a unified patent classification system based on the European Classification system (ECLA). The EPO was tasked with the project of Common Hybrid Classification as one of the ten IP5 projects. We previously covered the Common Search and Examination Support Tools project under the USPTO’s stewardship from the same forum. For more on what this joint patent classification system could mean, read on!


One of the most important aspects of a unified patent classification system is the combination of the best practices and traits from the US Classification system, the European Classification, and the International Patent Classification (IPC). We’ve already seen some results from the “lessons learned” approach of our current classification systems. IPC reform has quickened the pace of classification updates and reorganizations, a cue from the US Classification system. ECLA further subdivides the IPC system to hybridize the clean hierarchy of the IPC with the sub-technology detail of the US system.

It will be interesting to see the unified classification be developed with the immediate support of the USPTO. One of the best reasons to search US classifications while looking for US art is that US classifications are applied more diligently by USPTO Examiners (IPC is applied via a somewhat unreliable concordance). Presumably with the support of the USPTO, the new unified system will be implemented and understood from day one, generating accurate data for searchers.

Since the unified classification is using ECLA as a starting point (and since ECLA has IPC as a starting point), it’s important to note that the EPO has indicated that:

[t]his system would be aligned with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) classification standards and the International Patent Classification (IPC) structure.

This should ease the transition period and help with back-classification efforts (although if concordance is used to do so, the US backfile is likely to retain its somewhat spotty IPC classification record).

It would be hard to argue against a new classification system designed with the best ideas of all the top IP offices (input from other members of the IP5 is likely at a later date, including input from the Japanese Patent Office and their F-Index and F-Terms classification systems). Better classification data is important for better classification searching, which is an important part of any searcher’s repertoire.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of a unified classification system? Let us know in the comments below.

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This post was edited by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

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8 Responses

  1. it would be nice for those of us well versed in IPC but who find the USPC completely impossible to comprehend

  2. I have just come back from the EPOPIC 2010 (Lausanne, Switzerland) where the matter have been discussed in more than one occasion and I can report a general opinion about this fact, that is: a “perfect” global classification may be useful for searching purposes if well detailed and well applied but, on the other side, in many cases it seems even more useful to avail from different classification systems consenting a different search approach.

    • Guido,

      I agree that it would be great if this was implemented perfectly, but we know that will probably not be the case in the end. We can hope for progress, at least.

  3. This new joint patent classification system should, indeed, be a significant step forward for patent law, on a global scale. Unless one is a staunch IP opponent, it’s hard to argue with a system that promises better patents, faster — and that’s what this joint effort has the potential to achieve.

  4. [...] about a related subject and without much prompting, I went on a several minute filibuster about the future of unified patent classification. The main prompt for this tangent was the latest news (hat tip to The Patent Librarian Blog for the [...]

  5. [...] is here in a general sense with the US switching to a first to file patenting system. The future unified classification system between the USPTO and the EPO and the IP5 collaboration in general is another sign that the major [...]

  6. [...] Patent Classification (CPC). This important milestone denotes progress on this giant and important project that we continue to be excited [...]

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