Classification of Patents

Classification of patents is used to make it easier for individuals to perform a search of existing patents

Inventions are sorted into different fields of technology with a system using unique codes in a classification scheme. Each invention is put into a class with others that all fit into a particular technical area. Patents that are processed and granted, as well as those in progress, are all classified into their technology areas. 

When a company or inventor wants to begin a new project, he or she needs to perform a patent search to be sure the invention is original. Accurate results are essential, so this is where the classification system comes in. Patent documents use particular lingo that would not work well with a simple keyword search. 

Whichever authority is involved in processing and approving patents will determine the type of classification code used for the invention.

The various systems used for classification of patents are: 

Characteristics of Patents

Patents are made up of different elements; all meant to clarify the vision, purpose, and plans for the invention, among other things. 

Patents include the following:

  • Descriptions (including drawings)
  • Claims
  • Abstracts
  • Dates
  • Classification
  • Ownership (inventor or applicant)

The prior art (or what was done or used before the invention was implemented) begins the description. This section is meant to make it clear how the invention is original, how it differs from what we use currently, and how it will spur on future development. 

You'll want to do the following in a description:

  • Give the invention a name
  • Provide a history of the patent 
  • Put the invention into a technical field 
  • Summarize how the invention works
  • Provide detailed drawings and explanations of them
  • Provide a thorough description of how the invention works and what it does 

A claim makes clear what the inventor is claiming as his or her intellectual property, basically, what the inventor wants to protect. How much the patent protects and its legal boundaries are laid out in the claim. The abstract provides a brief summary of what is found in the patent document.

Patents include a classification number or symbol to make them easy to find. Of the three previously mentioned codes, the IPC system is the most commonly used. 

The date included in the patent states when the product was invented and its period of protection. Here you'll see a list of dates including:

  • The application date
  • The first time the application was filed or the "priority date"
  • The date the patent was granted

Names and addresses of the inventor, applicant, or owner of the patent will all be found in the document. 

International Patent Classification

The International Patent Classification, or IPC, is the most important system used for the classification of patents today. This system began in 1971 with the Strasbourg Agreement, which called for a new way of keeping track of and organizing patents. 

Patents are classified into different groups, depending on the type of technology they pertain to, using symbols and an organized hierarchy. You'll find almost 70,000 codes within all the various technical areas. This system is updated every year on New Year's Day. 

You'll find the following sections of technology are used for classification:

  • Human needs
  • Operations (including transportation)
  • Chemistry (including metallurgy)
  • Textiles (including fabric and paper)
  • Fixed constructions
  • Mechanical engineering (including forms of lighting, heating, weaponry, and engines)
  • Physics
  • Electricity

The International Patent Classification uses a hierarchical system to narrow down patents into subsets to be most distinctive. First, the patent is put into one of the sections listed previously, then a class, subclass, group, and finally a subgroup.  

U.S. Patent Classification

The USPC classification of patents organizes all patents and other similar documentation filed in the United States. This system groups documents based on the subjects they cover into 450 different classes and 150,000 unique subclasses. 

Cooperative Patent Classification

An extension of the IPC, the Cooperative Patent Classification system organizes patents into even more specific categories. This classification is a cooperation between the patent and the trademark offices of the United States and Europe. The harmonization of these systems is meant to allow for easier searches between the two different offices.

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