Every patent document, regardless of whether it is an application or a granted patent, is given a classification symbol by the examiner indicating its allocation to a specific area of technology.
Patent classification systems make it easier to file and retrieve patent documents.
When performing searches, patent examiners, inventors and companies need to obtain results that are as accurate as possible. State-of-the-art searches would be virtually impossible without classification, because searching with keywords can often produce inaccurate and incomplete results due to e.g. the language in which patent documents are written and the terms used.
Patent documents are classified according to different classification systems depending on the patent granting authority concerned. The most important classification system is the International Patent Classification (IPC).
Introduced in 1968, the IPC is used by all patent offices worldwide, some of which also use a national classification system. The IPC has a hierarchical structure and is subdivided into sections, classes, subclasses, groups and subgroups. One of the most precise classification systems available, the IPC currently divides technology into around 70,000 sub-areas.
In the IPC, the technology is divided into eight main sections:
The IPC has a systematic and hierarchical structure. Classification becomes more detailed with every further (sub)division, as you can see in this example:
Visit the WIPO website to find more information about the IPC.
For more information about the IPC (sub-) classes and categories click here.
The IPC and CPC classification can be visualized by clicking them: