The Big Patent Change Few Are Talking About

While the implementation of the first-to-file provisions of the America Invents Act is has been the subject of headlines for more than a year, another significant patent change also took place. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s transition to the Cooperative Patent Classification scheme (CPC) is the most significant change to the patent classification system in the US in 100 years.

The new CPC system was created in partnership with the European Patent Office and is designed to harmonize the U.S. system with the international system. Classification systems are important because they provide for the storage and retrieval of the patent documents that a patent examiner needs to review when examining patent applications.
While the USPTO is an innovator in many respects, our current classification system, the United States Patent Classification (USPC), is outdated and incompatible with many other patent offices around the world. In fact, we are the only major country that does not use the International Patent Classification (IPC) structure.

Given the breadth of the changes here in the United States, the changes will be phased in over time. Until the end of 2014, newly filed US applications will be classified in USPC and CPC. While this will give patent examiners and patent lawyers time to learn the new system, it also means that several systems will be play for some time. Therefore, an exhaustive patent search may need to consult all existing class systems.

However, once the CPC system is fully operational, patent applicants should be able to reap the benefits. The new, up-to-date system will provide both examiners and patent system users worldwide the ability to conduct patent document searches by accessing the same document collections. In addition, U.S. patent examiners will be able to select one set of CPC classification codes pertinent to a technology, and then view all the available U.S., European, and other foreign art. Both should result in stronger U.S. patents in the international landscape.

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