Understanding European Patent Classification System (ECLA)

European patent classification system of codes that groups inventions according to technical area. Patent offices worldwide use one or another classification system to organize the numerous patents filed therewith.

The European Classification (ECLA) is a former patent classification system maintained by the European Patent Office (EPO). The ECLA classification system contains 134,000 subdivisions. It is mainly an extension of the International Patent Classification (IPC) system, but sometimes modifies its titles and rules. ECLA is used in connection with the indexing system, which serves to identify additional information and aspects that are not covered by the ECLA schemes.

ECLA codes consist of:

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

ECLA was designed in-house by the EPO as an enhancement to the IPC classification system. Some of the major features of the system are:

  • ECLA classes provides narrow class definitions which are defined to split large IPC subgroups into even smaller divisions. This provides opportunities for the patent searcher to better fine tune his/her search strategy.
  • ECLA provides a high standard of quality as the classes are only assigned by the EPO examining corps, which means that a small body of highly trained individuals maintains the relevance of the system and ensures the accuracy of its use.
  • ECLA codes also classify non-patent literature documents as they come across during examination. ECLA provides accelerated revision that would change and grow with fast-moving technologies.

In general, the ECLA 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 EP patents which are vital source for many prior art searches. However, it is to be noted that ECLA has been replaced by the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) as of 1 January 2013. But understanding of ECLA may still be important, as there are millions of US patent documents which had been published in the past using the same.

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