USPTO and EPO Work on Joint Patent Classification System

Washington and Munich (October 25, 2010) — The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) have agreed to work toward the formation of a joint patent classification system. Unlike other major patent document classification systems, the U.S. patent classification system is not based on the International Patent Classification (IPC) system because it predates the IPC. One of the goals of the partnership is to align the U.S. and the EPO classification systems with the IPC, which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. The jointly developed classification system will be more detailed than the IPC to improve patent searching. As a result, the two offices would move closer to eliminating the unnecessary duplication of work between the two offices, thus promoting more efficient examinations, while also enhancing patent examination quality.

The Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Mr. David Kappos, and the President of the EPO, Mr. Benoît Battistelli, today issued the following joint statement:

In view of the significant benefit to stakeholders of developing a transparent and harmonized approach to a global classification system for patent documents; in order to make the search process more effective; and in the belief that cooperation between their two offices will facilitate progress in undertaking classification harmonization projects under the IP5 Common Hybrid Classification initiative, the USPTO and the EPO have agreed together to work toward the formation of a partnership to explore the development of a joint classification system based on the European Classification system (ECLA) that will incorporate the best classification practices of the two offices. This system would be aligned with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) classification standards and the International Patent Classification (IPC) structure. Accordingly, they have initiated discussions on governance and operational aspects of such a partnership.

The IP5 partner offices will be continually apprised of progress at appropriate IP5 forums. Stakeholders will receive regular updates on the substance and progress of classification partnership discussions between the two offices.”

This is a milestone achievement in the so-called Five IP Offices (IP5) co-operation as it will allow the IP5 offices to move toward the Common Hybrid Classification, one of the ten Foundation Projects of the IP5 which were devised to harmonize the search and examination environment of each office and to standardize the information-sharing process. Further information on the Foundation Projects is available at

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Also today, October 25, 2010, the Patent Information Users Group (PIUG) sent the following letter supporting this initiative to Director Kappos and EPO President Battistelli:

Dear Mr. Kappos & Mr. Battistelli,

On behalf of the world wide members of the Patent Information Users Group (PIUG) and the Confederacy of European Patent Information User Groups (CEPIUG) we would like to congratulate the United States and European Patent Of?ces for reaching this historic agreement on the creation of a joint classi?cation system.  The ability to work with a single patent classi?cation system around the world to identify patent documents regardless of their country of origin is an enormous step forward for the patent information users of the world.

Patent information users support the world’s technology based organizations and this advance will allow them to identify relevant patent documents and help these organizations make critical business decisions on how they make their investments and continue to grow economies around the world.  Too often patent information users will rely on only searching in their country of residence since they are comfortable with the systems in place and their ability to use them.  With a joint classi?cation system patent information users will be encouraged to ?nd patent documents outside of their own borders using tools they will be familiar with.

We are also excited to hear that the of?ces will be working together on developing automated methods for applying patent classi?cations to documents and potentially will make these technologies available to the public.  We can imagine a future where a joint classi?cation system can be applied to other data sources such as books, journal articles and even web-based services so they can be classi?ed as well.  This would allow the retrieval of technical documents both patent and non-patent to be conducted in a straight-forward fashion regardless of initial language or geography using a standardized code.

The use of a single, hierarchical joint classi?cation system will also bene?t patent information users who perform patent analysis work since the proposed system will create a world wide standard by which patent documents can be analyzed on their technical content.  Previously inventions from different countries could not be analyzed together since there was not a reliable mechanism for comparing these documents based on their technical merits.  With a joint classi?cation systems this task will be easier to accomplish.

Our organizations would like to pledge our support in this effort to make sure that this transition goes as quickly and smoothly as possible for everyone involved.  Between our two groups we represent more than 1,200 patent information users worldwide.  Collectively we are the largest users of patent information outside of the patent of?ces of the world and we would be happy to assist with the design, prototyping and education on the new system.  Our assistance can help bridge the gap between the examining corp and the individual inventors and small and medium enterprises of the world and make certain that the system we end up with can be used by patent users of all levels.

Finally we applaud this cooperation between two of the worlds largest patent issuing authorities.  We have seen a greater trend toward globalization in all areas of business but especially in the importance of patents as an intellectual property right around the world.  Projects such as this one along with the Patent Prosecution Highway and efforts to increase communication between the examining corps of the world will lead to greater ef?ciencies in patent examinations. This will surely lead to better quality patents being granted in a more timely fashion.  We hope that very soon the other IP5 members will join you and support this agreement.  These are goals which all of us in the patent community can stand behind and support wholeheartedly.

Best regards,

Mr. Anthony Trippe – Chair, PIUG
Mr. Aalt van de Kuilen – Chair, CEPIUG


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Join the Discussion

4 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for JExaminer]
    November 4, 2010 03:47 pm

    I’m always shocked that this is not yet available. It wouldn’t be so bad if IPC classifications were easily searchable. I use class searching the most in my work since the applications I receive are so vague (word unsearchable) and often searchable in other classes. Searching internationally, especially in arts that I know are much more detailed abroad is often frustrating.

    I really hope this is a project that can be completed in the next few years because honestly it should have already been done.

  • [Avatar for patent litigation]
    patent litigation
    November 1, 2010 12:38 am

    This new joint patent classification system will, 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 deliver.

  • [Avatar for Stanley D.Schwartz]
    Stanley D.Schwartz
    October 26, 2010 07:32 pm

    Efforts were made to harmonize the two classification systems back in the 1970’s but was strongly rejected by the APLA (now known as the AIPLA), the patent bar and the USPTO because the IPC schedules were significantly less comprehensive that the United States system. The proposed harmonization will only be an “advance” if the resulting classification schedule actually incorporates the best of both classification schedules. The resulting classification schedule will hopefully continue to be available as a meaningful search tool for professional patent searchers.

  • [Avatar for M. Slonecker]
    M. Slonecker
    October 26, 2010 06:35 pm

    Good…let’s rework the classification system and then take the next logical step, i.e., use it as a basis for determining what is deemed to be art related to the subject matter of an invention. In 31 years of reading litigated cases I have as yet to see a single instance where the classification system was relied upon by a court of law to assist in the determination of relevant prior art.