Understanding European Patent Classification System (ECLA)


European Patent Classification System of codes classifies inventions according to the technical areas they belong to. Patent offices worldwide use one or other classification system to organize the several patents filed in the respective offices.

Patent applications are classified in classification schemes on the basis of their technical content. They are assigned classification symbols, for example A43B49. This makes it easier to manage and to search for patent applications in a given technical field

The European Classification (ECLA) is a patent classification system maintained by the European Patent Office (EPO).

The ECLA classification system has 134,000 sub-divisions.

In addition to that, it is mainly an extension of the International Patent Classification (IPC) system. But, sometimes it modifies its titles and rules as well. 

ECLA is used in relation with the indexing system. This, in turn, helps to identify additional information. And, it also identifies the points that are not covered by the ECLA schemes.

What does European Patent Classification System  codes consist of?

The ECLA codes consists of the following:

  • IPC Sections (8)
  • The IPC Classes (120)
  • IPC Subclasses (628)
  • IPC Groups (69,000)
  • Detailed subgroups, specific to ECLA

ECLA was designed by the EPO as an improvement to the IPC classification system.

Features of ECLA

Following are some of the major features of the ECLA system:

  • Firstly, ECLA classes provides limited class definitions. These are defined to divide large IPC subgroups into even smaller divisions. This provides chances for the patent searcher to improve his/her search strategy accordingly.
  • Secondly, the ECLA provides a high standard of quality. This is because the classes are assigned by the EPO examining unit. This means that a small body of highly trained individuals maintains the relevance of the system. And, it also ensures the accuracy of the system’s use.
  • Lastly, ECLA codes also classify non-patent literature documents which they come across during examination. ECLA boosts modifications which change and grow with fast-moving technologies.

In general, the ECLA is one of the most important national patent classification systems. Many searchers are dependent on it. This is mainly  because of two factors. They are the importance and the total volume of the EP patents.

EP patents are an important source for many prior-art searches.

ECLA is, now, replaced by the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) as of 1st January, 2013.

The CPC is subject to ongoing revision by both offices. And, also, documents are reclassified accordingly. It is designed for efficient searching. Efficient searching, in turn, is an important aspect for users of patent information.

The CPC is the EPO’s main classification scheme. The ECLA and ICO schemes were flattened into one scheme when the CPC superseded the ECLA in January 2013. 

However, there are millions of US patent documents which were published in the past, using ECLA. Hence, this makes the understanding of ECLA important.

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