US and EU working on joint patent classification system

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) have teamed up to work on a joint patent classification system, which could see the creation of a unified approach to patents.

Most of the major patent classification systems around the world, such as the one used in Europe, are based on the International Patent Classification (IPC), which is administered by the UN agency the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). 

However, the US patent system is not based on the IPC, as it predates it, making it more difficult for the world to work together within a single system. The goal of the new partnership between USPTO and EPO is to establish a patent system that is based on the IPC, but also one that is more detailed, in efforts to improve patent searching.

The cited benefits of a more unified system include the elimination of unnecessary duplication of work between the two offices, more efficient examinations of patents, and superior quality to those examinations.

Because patent laws differ from country to country securing a patent in one area does not give the same legal covers in another region. A company must therefore file its patent in multiple regions, which often is not simply a matter of sending out multiple identical applications. With different requirements needing to be met under the various classifications, the process becomes lengthy and convoluted. A unified approach means global patenting, at least in Europe and the US, becomes a much easier affair.

This is a monumental step forward in unifying the patent process around the world, bringing the five IP offices (IP5) closer to achieving the Common Hybrid Classification, one of the organisation’s ten Foundation Projects.

David Kappos, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Benoit Battistelli, President of the EPO, issued a joint statement detailing the reasons for their decision to work more closely. They said that they believed it was for the best to make the system more transparent, easier and more effective to search, and to harmonise the global approach to the patent classification system.