Member States Update Patent Information Retrieval Systems

Geneva, June 27, 2003
Press Updates UPD/2003/199

Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) attending a meeting of the Working Group on the International Patent Classification (IPC) Revision Working Group in Geneva from June 4 to 13, 2003, agreed to incorporate additional classifications schemes for traditional knowledge based inventions and business methods patents into an international system designed to facilitate search and retrieval of patent information in all fields of technology. The IPC is a hierarchical classification system covering all fields of technology which is indispensable for efficient retrieval of patent information. This system is periodically revised to take account of technological developments and to ensure a more user-friendly and accessible patent classification and search tool, for specialists and non-specialists alike. The current (seventh) edition of the IPC entered into force on January 1, 2000. The next edition to be published in June 2004 will enter in force from January 1, 2005 and will reflect many changes in actively evolving fields of technology.

The Working Group responsible for the revision of the system agreed to create and incorporate into the IPC a new main category of information on traditional medicine based on the use of plants, comprising more than 200 subdivisions in its English version. Such information represents the most important part of documented traditional knowledge. This new enhancement provides classification-based access to classification-based traditional knowledge as prior art and thereby will facilitate information searches relating to traditional knowledge-based innovations. Inventors wishing to obtain a patent are obliged to fulfill certain criteria which require the examination of the state of technological developments in the relevant sector, known as "prior art", to determine the patentability of their invention. The inclusion of this new category, in the English version of the IPC, is the result of two years of investigation by a Task Force comprising representatives of China, India, Japan, United States of America and the European Patent OfficeOrganization (EPO). The French version of the new scheme will be finalized and submitted for approval by the IPC Committee of Experts at the next meeting in November 2003.

The Working Group also agreed to establish a new provisional subclass of information relating to business methods patents, entitled known as "Data processing equipment or methods specially adapted for administrative, commercial, financial, managerial, supervisory or forecasting purposes". Business methods are the subject of a rapidly growing number of patent applications relating to electronic commerce and methods of electronic administration, management and payment, especially on the Internet. Although debates on the legal protection of business methods are continuing, elaboration of relevant classification tools is necessary for the retrieval of information contained in patent applications on this subject. Since patenting of business methods is a recent phenomenon, the IPC does not contain an appropriate place for their classification. The Wworking Ggroup agreed that the creation of this subclass was necessary in view of the potential rapid growth in the number of patent documents relating to business methods. On the basis of a proposal submitted by the EPO, the Wworking Ggroup approved a provisional scheme of the new subclass which is expected to be completed at the next meeting of the Wworking Ggroup.

Changes to the IPC are prepared by the IPC Revision Working Group in the course of the IPC revision period and are subsequently approved by the IPC Committee of Experts. The current revision period runs from 1999 to 2004. Of the 13 projects considered by the Working Group at its recent session, six have been successfully completed. The Working Group is expected to complete the IPC revision program at its next session in November 2003. The results of this revision process will then be forwarded to the Committee of Experts for approval before their inclusion into the next edition of the IPC.

The IPC Committee of Experts is also carrying out a reform process designed to adapt the IPC to the electronic environment and to ensure that the system offers a more user-friendly and accessible patent classification and search tool, in particular for non-professionals. The reform process will involve the introduction of fundamental changes to the structure and use of the IPC as well as its revision process. Principles and strategic directions of the reform have been elaborated by the IPC Reform Working Group established by the Committee of Experts for this purpose.


The International Patent Classification (IPC) is based on the Strasbourg Agreement Concerning the International Patent Classification, a WIPO-administered international treaty which was concluded in 1971 and entered into force in 1975. The agreement is open to states party to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. Although, as of June 27, 2003, only 53 states were party to this agreement, the IPC is used by the industrial property offices of more than 100 states, four regional offices and WIPO under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

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