Understanding US Patent Classification System


Patent offices system worldwide use one or another classification system to organize the numerous patents filed therewith. A classification scheme is a system of codes that groups inventions according to technical area. In general, the US Patent classification system is one of the most important national patent classification systems. It is heavily relied by many of the searchers because of the importance and the sheer volume of the US patents which are vital source for many prior art searches.  Patent offices

U.S. Patent Classification (USPC) System is a hybrid of “functional” classes (focused on an aspect of an invention) and “application” classes (focused on an industry). Any US patent class may typically have two parts: Class and Subclass, where the class is a number up to 3 digits, and the subclass is a number up to 6 digits where the last three digits are decimal places. The number format follows: XXX/YYY.  Patent offices

Methods used by USPC to classify patents

USPC uses several methods to classify patents, including:

  • Industry or application area (e.g., “textile industry”)
  • Form (e.g., a chemical structure or a biological structure)
  • Key function (e.g., “lifting”)
  • Product or Effect (e.g., the product of a manufacturing process or a system that produces an effect repetitively)

Each of the patent class is framed around one or more of these rationales. In order to find a relevant patent class for use, one may use one of the following methods:  Patent offices

  1. Directly use United States Patent Classification (USPC) Index,
  2. Identify and review couple of closely related patents and use their classifications, and/or
  3. Search keywords in Manual of Classification,  Patent offices

There are other classification systems, such as ECLA (European Patent Office Classification), FI and F-Term systems as developed by the Japanese Patent Office (JPO), Cooperative Patent Classification system (CPC), etc.  Recently, the Cooperative Patent Classification system (CPC) is slowing replacing the US Patent Classification System (USPC) as de facto choice for many searchers. We will talk about the same in one of the future articles. In fact, as of June 1st, 2015 US utility patents and applications are no longer published with USPCs. Although, plant patents and design patents are the exception, and they will continue to carry a USPC designation. But understanding of USPC may still be important, as there are millions of US patent documents which had been published in the past using USPC.

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