Guest Post by Anthony Trippe, Chair of PIUG – The International Organization for Patent Information Professionals. I asked Mr. Trippe to provide his perspective as a professional search specialist on the USPTO/EPO joint classification announcement.
There are a lot of different ways to search for patents but arguably one of the most important ways is to find relevant patent classification codes for a technology and search for them in the country you are interested in. Ordinarily that would involve knowing the different classification systems of each of the individual countries and running the searches using different strategies for each country. Some of the drawbacks of a system like that involve inconsistencies between how classification systems are developed and what technologies they focus on, the likelihood that an individual doing the searching will do so in a country specific manner based on which system they are familiar with and the difficulty of comparing the technological content of patent documents from different countries when they are classified using different systems.
Today the USPTO and EPO took a big step forward in addressing these issues by issuing a joint announcement on a directive that they are going to start working together on a joint classification system which both companies will develop and support. The new system will be based on the European ECLA system which is itself an off-shoot of the International Patent Classification system from WIPO and will be co-developed by the two offices going forward.
The idea of a Common Hybrid Classification has been one of the ten Foundation Projects of the IP5 since the beginning so movement in this area was expected but the announcement of a joint classification system between USPTO and EPO is a distinct step forward and signals how serious the offices are about making this happen in a reasonable time frame.
This was an enormous decision on the part of the USPTO since the US has invested so heavily in its existing system which predated the IPC and ECLA systems. Director Kappos and his office should be congratulated for recognizing the enormous benefits that this change will have on efficiencies between the offices worldwide and the impact on overall patent quality.
Speaking as the Chair of the Patent Information Users Group I also can’t say enough about what this change will mean for the patent searchers of the world. Whether they work for a patent office, a law firm, are in private practice or represent a corporate entity, the ability to use a joint patent classification system will allow patent searchers to find relevant patents easier from around the world and will allow them to compare the technical content of these documents more efficiently since they will be working from a common framework. I spoke to a number of searchers about this development and to a person they greeted this decision with excitement and welcomed the opportunities that a joint classification system would represent.
While this is an exciting day there is still work that needs to be done. Tools will need to be developed to map the existing US system to the new joint system at least initially until users become accustomed to using the new system. There will also need to be work done on understanding where the existing US system can add value to ECLA and merge the two systems into the joint one. There will also need to be considerations made for incorporating other classification systems from around the world. In particular the Japanese F-Term system will have to addressed and hopefully incorporated into a joint system in the future. These issues can be addressed and it looks as if the USPTO and EPO are building momentum to make it happen as quickly as possible.
Both offices have also been working on automatic classification methods and hopefully the creation of a joint system will make this easier and will allow the groups to pool their efforts. Thinking ahead to the future the reader can imagine a situation where automated patent classification tools could be applied to other data sources besides patents. Imagine being able to use a single, specific code for a technology and be able to retrieve worldwide patent documents, non-patent literature and even perhaps documents on the web on that topic. A joint classification system could start us down this road and two of the largest patent offices in the world have taken the first step.