Patent Family

A patent family as defined by WIPO is “a collection of published patent documents relating to the same invention, or to several inventions sharing a common aspect, that are published at different times in the same country or published in different countries or regions”.

A patent family is generally created as a result of an applicant seeking protection for the same invention (priority application) in multiple jurisdictions (countries or regions) or for a different invention that builds upon previous invention(s) or a combination of the two. Consequently, these subsequent patent applications may contain several sets of features (or claims) where each set invoking priority from a different priority application. Moreover, different claims may be accepted or rejected by the various patent offices during the granting process. Which then results in a complexity of priority relations with patents having different scopes of protection and/or different priority dates.

Patent families are used in different patent analysis to; identify single inventions, or to group closely related inventions together to avoid double counting of patent publications, or to monitor the global market in one’s line of business as well as keep an eye on the worldwide situation and be aware of innovations and changes. When analyzing patents, it is therefore important to use an appropriate definition of a patent family for the desired analysis. 

Various approaches have been used for defining a patent family, and in general, patent families are defined by databases and database providers, not by national or international laws, and family members for a particular invention can vary from database to database. 

There are however two most commonly used definitions of a patent family that are adopted by many databases including IamIP namely;

DOCDB Simple family

Which comprises all patent documents that have exactly the same priority date or a combination of priority dates and are related to the same invention, meaning that each member of the simple family has exactly the same priority application or applications. Simple families therefore cover a single invention and for this reason are the most commonly used.

INPADOC Extended Family

Is a broader definition of a patent family than the simple family and comprises all patent documents sharing directly or indirectly (e.g. via a third document) at least one priority document. In other words, each member of the extended family has at least one priority application in common with at least one other member of the family. INPADOC families can provide an insight into an applicant’s development in a particular field. However, it can result in large family sizes as unrelated inventions may be grouped together.

To demonstrate the family definitions, consider the following example of an extended family consisting of 11 documents related directly or indirectly to 5 priority documents. 

  • Simple family 1: comprising 1 document; D1
  • Simple family 2: comprising 4 documents; D2, D4, D7 and D11
  • Simple family 3: comprising 2 documents; D3 and D8
  • Simple family 4: comprising 2 documents; D5 and D9
  • Simple family 5: comprising 2 documents; D6 and D10


IamIP Platform:

In the IamIP platform the simple family members and the inpadoc family members are visually summarized for each patent document, as e.g. shown below: