Download Whitepaper Life After USPC

By Cathy Chiba, Dauratus Research

Retirement can be a little unsettling. And not just for those who retire.

The United States Patent Classification System — the venerable, storied, sometimes maddening USPC — has finally exited the realm of active classification schemes, following its European colleague ECLA into retirement.

In its place, both the European Patent Office and the US Patent and Trademark Office are now employing CPC, the Cooperative Patent Classification: the bright, capable, future-adapted child of the International Patent Classification.

The CPC seems to be working well. The USPC has just retired. But of course, it's never easy to bid goodbye to an old and trusted colleague, and many of us are likely to miss the comfort of its eccentricities.

Still, if we are to truly embrace the power of CPC, we need to understand what life after USPC means. Here are five key things that patent researchers should know about CPC implementation.

1. Key Dates: January 1, 2013 and January 1, 2015

As with other things patent-related, dates are important. The CPC has been in development since late 2010, but the most significant events for patent researchers occur between 2013 and 2015.

January 1, 2013: CPC becomes a working classification system and the EPO retires ECLA.
During a transition period, examiners are allowed to use ECLA and ICO classifications for the day-to-day tasks of searching and classification. However, all documents are coded for storage with CPC. ECLA is no longer used. (For more info, see the EPO's general tutorial on the CPC system.)

January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2014: The USPTO begins a gradual transition to CPC.
Newly filed US applications are classified using both USPC and CPC. US Patent Grants were classified using either USPC only, or both USPC and CPC. Note that even if CPC classifications are retroactively applied to those documents that did not initially receive CPC classification, the front pages of such documents will still show USPC codes only.

January 1, 2015: The USPTO retires the USPC.
Newly filed US applications filed after this date will now be classified using CPC only. USPC codes are not applied unless the applications are plant patent or design patent applications.

Implications: Things to Remember While Searching

Will your search include US patent applications submitted to the USPTO after January 1, 2015?
If so, USPC codes will not retrieve those documents.

Will your search include US patent applications submitted to the USPTO before January 1, 2015?
Consider using USPC in addition to CPC to ensure a broader search. The pre-2015 collection will still retain USPC codes, and thus USPC may still prove a useful tool for this collection.

Will your search include US Patent Grants published between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014?
These documents should have USPC codes, but may not show CPC symbols on the published front page. CPC codes may eventually be applied to these documents for database retrieval purposes. Patent searchers should be aware that CPC codes may have been assigned using an electronic concordance.

Will your search retrieve cases entered into the USPTO's systems on or before December 31, 2014, but published on or after January 1, 2015?
Some US publications published in 2015 may still display USPC codes. If you have been pining for the return of the USPC, this is not a sign that you can offer CPC a cardboard box so it can pack its belongings. The USPC has no plans has come out of retirement.

2. CPC is Catching On: More National Offices Are Signing On.

The CPC scheme is no longer just a joint venture between the EPO and USPTO. As Christopher Kim of the USPTO noted at the second annual USPTO-EPO CPC Annual Meeting with Industry Users (May 1, 2015, Lombard, IL), other patent-granting authorities have begun directly classifying their own national office documents using CPC.

Thus, the EPO is working with EPO national offices in order to help them classify their documents directly into CPC. A number of national offices — among them RosPat (Russia), CIPO (Canada), IMPI (Mexico), INPI (Brazil), ILPO (Israel) are currently showing interest in adopting CPC to classify their documents.

Four of the five IP5 countries have now committed to using CPC to classify patent documents. KIPO presented the results of its initial projects at the May 1 meeting. SIPO has committed to using CPC to classify in all technical fields by 2016. Only Japan, with its significant investment in its own IPC-based system, the Japanese File Index (FI), has not yet indicated which path it will take with CPC going forward.

With more and more patent-granting authorities using CPC to classify documents, and given the finely grained nature of the CPC system, CPC will become an increasingly important tool for retrieving documents, particularly when searching across multiple patent authorities in multiple languages. The USPTO and EPO will also continue to classify documents using IPC.

3. CPC Lives, Breathes and Changes. Almost Monthly.

In 2012, former USPTO Director David Kappos wrote a blog post entitled "Top Reasons Why USPTO Is Moving to CPC". Reason number one? Currency. And maintainability.

The USPC, despite its long history of use, was no longer being adequately maintained.

The IPC, despite its wide application, was updated infrequently with years between revisions. As Heather J.E. Simmons, Assistant Professor of Library Service at the University of Illinois College of Law, notes, "This is a glacial rate of change in the modern world, where a new generation of mobile phones comes out every few months."

The CPC, on the other hand, is actively being revised, updated, tweaked and developed. The USPTO and EPO have thus far shown commitment to ongoing revision of the CPC throughout the year. In 2015 alone, there have been change announcements to the CPC scheme nearly every month.

At least for the time being, the CPC is a vibrant, living classification system: one that at least attempts to respond to the rapidity of current technological change.

Keeping up may be difficult, but monitoring is certainly a start. Other excellent resources include the EPO's CPC classification browser, which allows users to browse and search the classification scheme, and the EPO's tutorials on CPC, available online and via live webinar broadcast.

4. Retired… but still stalking the halls of the USPTO.

Symbols and ideas are easier to move around than people.

Although, strictly speaking, the USPC is no longer being actively used by the USPTO as a classification system, the USPC framework is still being used as a routing tool for distributing workload, according to the USPTO representatives at the May 1 meeting.

Even if the USPC is no longer being applied to actual documents, the fact that the USPC is still a basis for document routing suggests that it is still, at some level, being applied to an initial analysis of the document's subject matter.

Will the use of the USPC as a routing tool have any consistent effects on the application of CPC classifications? Will the continued presence USPC as an underlying affect how examiners search, or their ability to master CPC?

5. Keeping ECLA and USPC on Retainer… is Possible.

Sometimes it's good to keep old colleagues on in an advisory capacity, especially when dealing with older cases.

Both ECLA and USPC were effective finding tools in their day, and many patent searchers may still wish to use these classification systems to retrieve older documents that were classified using these systems.

In particular, because the USPC is not an IPC-based system in the way that ECLA, CPC and Japan's FI system are, the USPC can be be a useful way to examine older patent data using a conceptual framework that differs from IPC-compliant frameworks. Thus, the USPC still has some worth in the the patent researcher's toolkit.

Unfortunately for those who rely upon the free tools provided by the USPTO and the EPO, straightforward access to patent documents using retired classification systems such as USPC and ECLA will eventually disappear. Classification searching on the EPO's Espacenet, for instance, currently shows only two choices for classification searching: CPC and IPC.

Many commercial providers, however, continue to provide access to ECLA and USPC in their patent information products.

And yes, in case you are wondering: LexisNexis® TotalPatent™ is one of them.

Happy retirement, USPC!

This document is for educational purposes only and does not guarantee the functionality or features of LexisNexis products identified. LexisNexis does not warrant this document is complete or error-free. If written by a third party, the opinions may not represent the opinions of LexisNexis.

LexisNexis, Reed Tech and the LexisNexis Knowledge Burst logo are registered marks of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used under license. Other products or services may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies. © 2015 LexisNexis. All rights reserved. 16015

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