The USPTO's classification system has been different from the International Patent Classification System (IPC) because (a) the USPTO's classification system came first, and (b) WIPO decided to take a different classification path when developing the IPC. As a result, two sets of classification codes are used during examination.
That is about to change. The USPTO and the EPO (which observes the IPC) announced today that they are working on a joint classification system that "will be more detailed than the IPC to improve patent searching. As a result, the two offices would move closer to eliminating the unnecessary duplication of work between the two offices, thus promoting more efficient examinations, while also enhancing patent examination quality."
This effort is part of a larger harmonization effort being pushed by "Five IP Offices" or "IP5." The USPTO and EPO issued a joint statement stating that
In view of the significant benefit to stakeholders of developing a transparent and harmonized approach to a global classification system for patent documents; in order to make the search process more effective; and in the belief that cooperation between their two offices will facilitate progress in undertaking classification harmonization projects under the IP5 Common Hybrid Classification initiative, the USPTO and the EPO have agreed together to work toward the formation of a partnership to explore the development of a joint classification system based on the European Classification system (ECLA) that will incorporate the best classification practices of the two offices. This system would be aligned with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) classification standards and the International Patent Classification (IPC) structure. Accordingly, they have initiated discussions on governance and operational aspects of such a partnership.
Read the USPTO press release on the joint classification effort here (link)
Visit the IP5 website here (link)
The IP5 also posted a presentation given to the WIPO General Assembly discussing upcoming projects that include
- IP5 Common Hybrid Classification
- IP5 Common Documentation
- Common Application Format
- Common Access to Search and Examination Results
- Common Training Policty and Mutual Machine Translation
- Common Examination Practice Rules and Quality Management and
- Common Search and Examination Support Tools
You can download the entire presentation (74 pages) here (link)