The International Patent Classification (IPC), established by the Strasbourg Agreement, provides for a hierarchical system of language independent symbols for the classification of patents and utility models according to the different areas of technology to which they pertain.
The IPC divides technology into eight sections with approximately 70,000 subdivisions. Each subdivision has a symbol consisting of Arabic numerals and letters of the Latin alphabet.
The appropriate IPC symbols are indicated on each patent document, of which more than 1,000,000 were issued each year in the last 10 years. The IPC symbols are allotted by the national or regional industrial property office that publishes the patent document. For PCT documents, IPC symbols are allotted by the International Searching Authority (ISA).
The Classification is indispensable for the retrieval of patent documents in the search for "prior art." Such retrieval is needed by patent-issuing authorities, potential inventors, research and development units, and others concerned with the application or development of technology.
Assistance in the use of the Classification is also provided by the Guide to the IPC.
In order to keep the IPC up to date, it is continuously revised and a new version is regularly published. The current and earlier authentic versions of the IPC are available for consultation in English and French. Translations of the IPC are also prepared and published in other languages. For example, the IPC is available in the following languages through the "bridge" function of the Internet publication: Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish.
The revision of the IPC is carried out by the IPC Committee of Experts.