As a patent granting authority we perform searches on United Kingdom (UK) patent applications. We use classification schemes to help us narrow down our search. We classify all applications before we publish them so that the classification information is available on the day of publication.
We classify UK patent applications by their technical content. There are several patent classification schemes that can be used and currently we apply the International Patent Classification (IPC) to all our applications. We used to apply our own UK Patent Classification (UKC) but following a public consultation we decided to stop doing this from 1 July 2007.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) maintains the International Patent Classification (IPC). The IPC is presented as a hierarchical collection of alphanumeric symbols, which represent approximately 70,000 subdivisions or ‘groups’. Each group refers to a different type of technical information. Each patent document we publish will have at least one IPC symbol applied to it. The European Patent Office (EPO) and other patent offices worldwide also use it to classify their own patent documents.
The Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) replaced the former European Classification System (ECLA) on 1 January 2013. Its hierarchical structure is based upon the IPC, with approximately 250,000 groups. It is jointly-owned and developed by the EPO and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In addition to IPC symbols, we previously applied our own UKC terms to all UK patent applications considered prior to 1 July 2007. Whilst we no longer apply UKC terms to our applications, it is still possible to search UK patent applications published prior to July 2007 using the UKC terms.Other patent granting authorities also maintain their own classification schemes.