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International patent classification

The International Patent Classification was established by the 1971 Strasbourg Agreement, by which the contracting states undertook to indicate its symbols on their patent documents.

The abbreviation MPT (IPC in english) is used in the Slovak Republic to denote the international patent classification and is used in conjunction with the issue indicator of the classification. The issue indicator is the year and month in which the relevant issue came into force, in the form 2011.01 (i.e. January 2011). In the past, edition serial numbers (1 to 7) and years of issue (2008-2009) have been used as edition indicators. From the English name International Patent Classification, the abbreviations IPC and Int. Cl. with the issue indicator given as a superscript or in brackets, e.g. Int. Cl.7, Int. Cl. (2009).

More detailed information about IPC is provided on the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) page on international classification systems under International Classifications.

Individual editions in Slovak language with keyword search, Slovak and/or English language versions and links to authentic language versions and translations into other languages:

International patent classification (in Slovak - translation by the IPO SK, in English - content taken from WIPO)

IPC in PDF - current and previous editions in Slovak language in pdf format available for download

Individual editions in authentic language versions with keyword search, English and/or French language versions and links to translations into other languages:
International patent classification (in English and French - authentic WIPO edition)

Guide to determining the suitability of the subject matter of the invention for compulsory and optional classification

Guide to determining the appropriate place for classifying patent documents within the MPT

List of green technologies in the MPT

The IPC Green Inventory is a WIPO online tool providing the ability to search for patent information relating to environmentally friendly technologies. The tool is linked to the MPT system and covers approximately 200 topics related to green technologies. It is based on the list of technology-related terms listed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The lines for each topic, represented by MPT symbols, show the specific content of the relevant symbol in the hierarchical structure of the MPT and allow to view, via the PATENTSCOPE® service, all the so-called 'green' international applications filed under the PCT corresponding to the relevant symbol.

Note: This text was published in 2005 and has been retained in its original form for historical and documentary reasons. The information contained herein is not current information on the International Patent Classification. For up-to-date information on the International Patent Classification System, please see the page on patent classification systems. Links to the pages on grading systems and the International Patent Grading System are provided on the right side of this page as related links.

The next edition of the International Patent Classification will enter into force on 1 January 2006. With a delay of one year compared to the original plans of the Svetovej organizácie duševného vlastníctva (World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO), this will result in significant changes in the use of this international classification system by both patent offices and the professional public. The content of this article provides information on the reasons that led to the launch of the reform, its principles, the IPO's approach to the reform and its implications for users of patent information. The article concludes with contact details where interested parties can obtain more detailed information about the MPT reform.

I. History of MPT

The International Patent Classification was adopted by the Štrasburskou dohodou (PDF, 106,5 kB) (Strasbourg Agreement) on March 24, 1971, which entered into force on October 7, 1975, to provide an international, uniformly used tool for classifying inventions and technical solutions according to their relevance to a particular field of technology.

The purpose of the classification of inventions and technical solutions is to facilitate access to the technical and legal information contained in invention patents, patent applications, utility models and other types of industrial law protection for inventions and technical solutions which have been issued and made available to the public in the form of patent documents.

However, even before the entry into force of the Strasbourg Agreement, most of the developed countries of the world used the symbols of the first edition of the MPT to classify inventions and technical solutions and indicated them on the first pages of patent documents and in patent gazettes.

The first edition of the MPT was in force from 1 September 1968 to 30 June 1974, the second edition from 1 July 1974 to 31 December 1979, and each subsequent edition has been revised from time to time and has been in force in five-year periods up to the current seventh edition, which entered into force on 1 January 2000.

The reason for the periodic revisions and changes in the almost 40-year history of the MPT has been the constant changes resulting from the development of the various fields of technology, technological advances in innovation and thus the need to adapt the grading to new conditions.

II. Reasons for the reform

The first half of the 1990s saw significant changes in the access to and processing of patent information and patent documents. The development of information technology and the spread of the Internet enabled patent offices to gradually move from conventional media for patent information - paper, microforms - to electronic media, in particular optical discs, CD- and DVD-ROMs and the Internet.

Along with the development of information technology, other fields of technology such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, telecommunications systems, etc. have also been continuously improved. At that time, the sorting system that had been in place for over 20 years was becoming inadequate in terms of the need for an efficient tool for patent searches, and its review cycle was too long to respond flexibly to the dynamic pace of technical development.

Moreover, the sorting systems operated and used by the three largest patent offices in the world, the European Patent Office (ECLA system), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (US Class system) and the Japan Patent Office (FI/F-Term system), in addition to the MPT, allow for much more efficient patent searches because they contain a significantly larger number of sorting symbols, the philosophy of classification is more sophisticated, and the review cycles of these sorting systems are based on a more efficient and flexible system than that of the MPT.

One of the most compelling reasons that led to the impetus to reform the MPT was the fact that the sorting was inherently designed to be used in the context of conventional, paper-based information carriers. Conducting patent searches in full retrospect of the period of validity of the classification led to the need to consult all previous editions of the classification and to use the symbols of the classification according to the period in which the patent documents were issued. However, with the rapid increase in the number of patent documents published each year, this system began to become increasingly burdensome for patent searchers.

III. Objectives of the reform

In March 1998, the MPT Union Committee of Experts, during its meeting, decided on the need to review the existing classification structure, its review process and review cycles and, at its next meeting in March 1999, recommended to the MPT Union General Assembly to approve the implementation of the classification reform. In September 1999, the Assembly approved the launch of this reform.

The objectives of the MPT reform were to maintain the importance of the sorting as a worldwide search tool, to ensure its effective usability in an electronic environment and to eliminate the need to use previous versions of the sorting when conducting patent searches.

In March 2000, the Committee of Experts endorsed a strategic plan for reform of the MPT with the objectives of providing a structure for the use of the sorting system in classifying patent and non-patent technical literature over the long term, to enable the use of the MPT by a variety of users, and to take advantage of the capabilities of information technology to make it accessible, usable and maintainable.

IV. Principle of reform

The essence of the reform of the classification is to divide it into two levels, basic and extended. The content of the basic level will consist of less than one third of the content of the seventh version of the classification, i.e. about 20 000 groups out of a total of 70 000 groups at the highest hierarchical level, mainly major groups and some groups at the level of one or two dots. The extended level will be made up of all the currently existing, i.e. about 70 000 groups of the seventh version of the classification at all its levels.

The basic level will be relatively stable and the number of changes to its content during the revision period is expected to be minimal. The review period will be reduced to three years compared to the current five years. The advanced level will be subject to regular revision at three-monthly intervals, thus ensuring more flexible monitoring of changes, particularly in the most dynamic areas of technology. At the same time, the number of classification groups in the extended level will be continuously increased in order to provide the possibility to classify specific inventions in increasingly narrowly defined fields of technology.

The basic level of classification will be intended for small and medium-sized patent offices which issue a relatively small number of patent documents per year and which employ a relatively small number of patent examiners carrying out patent searches in the broader field of technology. The use of a basic level of sorting for patent searches in the patent document collections of small and medium-sized patent offices will ensure that searches are also carried out by the public more efficiently and effectively.

The advanced level of sorting will be intended for large patent offices that issue a large number of patent documents per year. In the three largest patent offices alone, this amounts to almost one million documents per year. With such a large number of documents issued, even the current 70 000 groups of the seventh version of the classification no longer allow for efficient patent searches, as there are on average 140 issued documents per group in the last ten years in retrospect.

Notwithstanding the above, each patent office is free to decide independently and freely to use either of the two future classification levels to classify its patent documents.

V. Other features of the reform

Other features of the MPT reform include ensuring that patent documents are always classified and searchable or searchable according to the current version of the classification, the creation, maintenance and accessibility of a master classification database containing all patent documents from around the world, the introduction of supplementary information to the classification in electronic form, and the new marking and notation of classification symbols on patent documents, in patent gazettes and databases.

The possibility of searching patent documents and performing patent searches according to the current version of the patent classification will be ensured by regular re-sorting of the patent document retrospective in accordance with the changes in the classification resulting from the various revision cycles. The re-sorting will concern only those documents which will be classified according to the MPT symbols of those classification groups for which there has been some change during the current revision cycle, e.g. splitting into several subgroups, cancellation, renumbering, relocation in the classification, etc.

Therefore, for patent documents classified according to the basic level of classification, there will be minimal changes in classification and the need for re-sorting will be minimal in terms of the number of documents that will need to be re-sorted during each triennial review cycle. Conversely, for patent documents classified according to the extended classification level, there will be a need for relatively frequent and large numbers of documents to be re-sorted. The re-sorting will be carried out by each patent office to the extent of the documents issued by it.

In order to ensure that patent searches are carried out according to the current version of the patent classification, it will also be necessary to re-sort patent documents from the retrospective, classified according to previous versions of the MPT and national patent classifications. In this case too, the re-sorting of documents should be provided by each patent office to the extent of the documents issued by it. The re-sorting of the retrospective documentation constituting the so-called PCT minimum for the conduct of patent searches under the Patent Cooperation Treaty will be carried out by the three largest patent offices mentioned above.

The main classification database will be operated by the European Patent Office and the data from it should be accessible to the public via the esp@cenet online database. The database should allow patent searches to be carried out according to the current versions of both levels of the reformed classification, with outputs limited to a representative member of the patent family, i.e. documents based on the same application or the same priority right and issued by different patent offices. This should avoid duplication of study of the same invention published in different countries and in different languages.

The introduction of supplementary information to the classification in electronic form will ensure a better understanding and clearer orientation of the classification, e.g. by illustrating some of the MPT entries with figures or diagrams. The supplementary sorting information will also include sorting definitions, which should provide a more detailed explanation of the content of each MPT item than the list of sorting items itself provides. The electronic version of the sorting will contain additional aids and tools to better understand and navigate the sorting.

VI. Results of the reform

The paper-based basic level of the grading will be released in June. This will be the eighth version of the grading system, which will enter into force on 1 January 2006. The book edition will consist of four volumes of two sections each, with the fifth volume being the MPT Manual.

At the same time as the basic level, the extended level of the classification will be made available, but only in electronic form via the Internet. The electronic form of sorting will allow users to take advantage of all the conveniences and possibilities of the electronic environment, such as hyperlinks, keyword searches, supplementary sorting information, converter between the two levels and older versions, etc.

As with previous versions, the official text of the eighth version of the classification will be published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in English and French. A CD-ROM entitled IPC:CLASS with additional language versions of the classification, in German, Spanish, Russian and possibly other languages, is expected to be released in September.

In September, WIPO will release further MPT-related publications such as a glossary of classification terms, a converter between levels and different editions of the MPT, a guide to classification according to the MPT, etc.
The reform will affect the inclusion of MPT symbols on the first pages of patent documents and in patent gazettes and databases. Each MPT document or entry in a bulletin or database will have the MPT base level symbols set out in normal typeface, with a distinction between symbols representing the invention or technical solution using bold typeface versus symbols representing any additional information in the patent document using normal typeface.

The symbols of the extended level will be shown in italics on patent documents, in bulletins and in databases, with the same principle of representation of symbols relating to the invention or technical solution or additional information as for the basic level symbols. The extended level symbols will be supplemented on the patent documents by a classification version indicator, consisting of the year and month of the classification version according to which the classification was made.

Representation of MPT symbols on patent documents:

until 31. December 2005   From 1. January 2006
(51) Int. Cl.7   (51) Int. Cl. (2006)
A61K 31/22, A61K 31/28 // C07D 211/22   A61K 31/00
C07D 211/02
A61K 31/22 (2006.03)
A61K 31/28 (2006.03)
C07D 211/22 (2007.09)

VII. Reforming MPT in the Industrial Property Office of the Slovak Republic

The Industrial Property Office of the Slovak Republic has decided to use the basic level of the reformed classification for the classification of patent applications and utility model applications. This decision was issued as a result of respecting the principles of the reform, according to which the basic level of patent classification is intended for small and medium-sized patent offices.

The Office has so far published around three thousand patent documents per year, which is a relatively small number compared to other offices. This number will be further reduced as a consequence of the accession to the European Patent Convention in 2002, at least for a transitional period of a few years.

From the point of view of the maintenance and use of the sorting system and the related need for constant monitoring of changes and re-sorting of patent documents, the use of an extended level of sorting by the Office would not be efficient and economical in view of the number of documents and the number of experts in the Office, as it would place considerable demands on technical support and on financial and human resources.
However, this does not mean that the extended sorting level will not be used at all in the Office. Patent searches and examinations in the context of the prosecution of patent applications or as a service to the public will continue to be carried out in all available information sources and patent collections using the extended classification level.

One of the most important tasks of the Office in connection with the introduction of the reformed sorting system into use is to ensure that the internal applications are adapted during the course of this year by adapting them to the changes in the recording, accessing and interchange of MPT data between Offices. At the same time, the Office will have to ensure the gradual re-sorting of national patent documents issued before the entry into force of the eighth version of the classification.

The eighth version of the classification will be published by the Office in book form, at the basic level, in the Slovak language, in November. The extended version of the classification will be made available to Slovak users via the Office's website by linking to the relevant WIPO website.

VIII. Implications of the MPT reform for users

The division of the classification into two levels will ensure that patent searches are carried out more efficiently for different purposes and for different types of users. Professional searchers, such as patent office examiners or commercial patent information service providers, will have a comprehensive tool at their disposal, with the possibility of using an electronic form and various sorting aids and supplements.

The main classification database will provide professionals with a compact information source with up-to-date data, without the need to use some of the time-consuming and logic-intensive techniques and procedures associated with the use of multiple versions of a classification or searches of multiple databases or information sources. The public, patent information centres and small and medium-sized offices will be able to use a simpler version of the sorting system to carry out patent searches in national collections of patent documents.

Only the first two to three years after the entry into force of the eighth version of the classification, during which time the back-sorting of patent documents should take place, should be slightly problematic from the point of view of both users and patent offices. During this period, the existing sorting system will have to be used in parallel with the reformed MPT.

The reform of the MPT will ultimately have a positive impact in the long term on the use of sorting for patent searches, statistics and similar activities by all types of users and will bring about an efficient system for making technical information available in the form of patent documents and non-patent technical literature.

IX. Conclusion

This article is part of the proceedings of the conference Intellectual Property in Slovakia V, which took place on 26 April 2005 at the Industrial Property Office of the Slovak Republic in Banská Bystrica, and can also be found in the journal Intellectual Property 2/2005.

X. References

Lívia Bednárová: "Reform of the International Patent Classification", final thesis at the Institute of Intellectual Property, IPO of the Slovak Republic, Banská Bystrica 2004

Mikhail Makarov: "The process of reforming the International Patent Classification", World Patent Information 26 (2004), pp. 137-141

Herwig Pauwels: "Pillars of the IPC reform", World Patent Information 26 (2004), pp. 205-208