World Intellectual Property Organization

Agreement to Simplify International Patent Classification System

Geneva, March 24, 2009
PR/2009/586

A committee of international experts meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva from March 16 to 20, 2009 agreed to simplify the structure of the international system for classifying patents.  Reform of the system, known as the International Patent Classification (IPC) system, will ensure more consistent search results and their wider use by industrial property offices. 

WIPO Director General, Mr. Francis Gurry, welcomed the Committee’s recommendations as a significant improvement of the IPC and noted “The IPC is a unique international tool for searching patent information.  This move towards simplified classification will help facilitate the widespread sharing of the technological knowledge stored in patent databases, which is a major objective for WIPO.”   

The IPC system divides all fields of technology into hierarchical sets of sections, classes, subclasses and groups.  It is an indispensable tool for industrial property offices, in conducting searches to establish the novelty of an invention, or to determine the state of the art in a particular area of technology.  The IPC is also used by industry to search competitors’ patents and to find technological information to aid research and development.   

The current IPC structure, introduced in 2006, consists of a core level and a much more detailed advanced level, with different publication dates.   

The latest series of reforms have resulted in a number of fundamental changes: 

  • The IPC structure will be simplified by abolishing the distinction between the core and advanced level from January 2011. Offices currently using the core level will be able to use the main groups in this unified structure.  An updated IPC version will be published every year on January 1, with the possibility of a second publication in case of large numbers of modifications;
  • Development of the IPC will be accelerated with the aim of building an integral, unified international patent classification by progressively integrating local classification systems such as the United States Classification, the European Classification (ECLA), and the Japan Patent Office FI/F Term under new working procedures;
  • New working procedures will enhance the use of the e-Forum, through which experts conduct technical consultations in pursuit of greater efficiency and quality of revision work;
  • The current structure of IPC revision work and procedures will continue to be reviewed in 2010 after one year’s evaluation. 

The Committee of Experts will report to the Assembly of the IPC Union in September 2009, which is expected to endorse the review.

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