IP Academy

International patent classification

Author: Danielle Carvey

The International Patent Classification (IPC), administered by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), is a hierarchical system for use in relation to the uniform classification of patents and utility models.

The main objective of the IPC is to establish an effective search tool through which users can retrieve relevant patent documents such as applications and specifications of granted patents et al. Such documents may be used, for example, to assist in the establishment of novelty and assessment of an inventive step or non-obvious element of an invention.

Moreover, the IPC also facilitates selective dissemination of relevant patent and utility model information across users of the system, and provides a basis on which statistical analysis on intellectual property and technological development can occur.

Established by the Strasbourg Agreement of 1971, the IPC contains information on patent publications from all Contracting States privy to the system, as well as most other jurisdictions, making it the most widely used patent classification system worldwide. Each patent or utility model publication is assigned one or more classification symbols which indicate the subject, or technological area, to which an invention pertains, allowing users of the IPC to efficiently distinguish details of patent publications. By utilising language-independent symbols, the classification system allows for the multi-jurisdictional use of the IPC in a uniform manner.

The classification system is split into eight alphabetised sections of subject areas for patents and utility models, namely:

A. Human necessities

B. Performing operations and transportation

C. Chemistry and metallurgy

D. Textiles and paper

E. Fixed constructions

F. Mechanical engineering, lighting, heating, weapons and blasting

G. Physics

H. Electricity

Each of these sections is then divided into classes and subclasses, as well as groups and subgroups, each possessing its own alphabetical or numerical code. The corresponding letters and numbers come together to form an overall symbol to which patent publications can be assigned, for example in the format of A01B 1/00.

The "hierarchical" element is demonstrated by the tiered format of section, class, group etc. Typically, a patent examiner will assign the classification to a patent application at the most detailed level possible in accordance with their technical content and subject matter.

The IPC is reviewed annually to reflect relevant technical developments, with the newest version being enforced on January 1st of each year. At present, the classification system is in use in over 100 countries across the globe, and divides technology into almost 80,000 areas. The IPC also details a Catchword Index, which constitutes a list of 20,000 technical key terms in relation to the appropriate classification placement, provided in both English and French, the two main languages of the system. A detailed version of the index is also provided in English and German by the German Patent and Trademark Office, which contains over 100,000 terms.

Other patent classifications are also in operation, for example, the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC), managed jointly by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The International Patent Classification system, as well as other operational classification models used worldwide, can prove a vital tool for use in the retrieval and assessment of patent documents. If you have any questions regarding the IPC, or are interested in filing a patent or utility model application, please feel free to contact us.

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Industrial design protection is widely utilised across the globe, with a registered design right preventing others from appropriating or imitating the appearance of a product. However, the obtainment of a design right, alongside a certificate of registration, is often not the final step of design protection.

Once granted, it is important to ensure that a design right is maintained in each jurisdiction in which the owner utilises the design. In order to uphold and maintain such rights, many countries require the filing of a request for design renewal and the payment of annuity/renewal fees.

The renewal process varies between countries and even between regional IP systems. As an example, some of the largest IP offices worldwide include the US, South Korea and China, and they all have different procedures in relation to the renewal of design rights and annuities.

In South Korea, for example, the validity term for an industrial design right consists of 20 years counted from the date of filing. The legislation in the country outlines that once the right has been granted, the registration fee for an industrial design should be paid within 3 months from receipt of the Notice of Allowance.

The registration fee in South Korea is inclusive of the payment for the first 3 years of the design right lifecycle, meaning that further annuity payments should be made in respect of the 4th years onwards. The payment of each annuity fee thereafter is due prior to the anniversary of the registration date for each respective year.

Whilst it is recommended that the payment of an annuity fee is made within the prescribed time, a grace period of 6 months exists in South Korea, allowing for the late payment of said fee when accompanied by payment of a surcharge.

In China, industrial designs with a filing date on or after June 1, 2021 are in force for 15 years from the date of filing, whilst those with a filing date occurring on or before May 31, 2021 are in force for 10 years from the date of filing.

Once granted, the official grant fee should be paid within two months from the date of receipt of the notification to grant a certificate, however, unlike South Korea, this fee is not inclusive of the first annuity. Instead, the first renewal payment, as well as a stamp tax for the design certificate in China, are to be paid separately upon registration of a design.

Further annual fees are to be paid in advance, during the month preceding the anniversary of the filing date. Late payment is possible within a six-month grace period by paying a corresponding surcharge.

In the US, design patents with an application filing date occurring on or after May 13, 2015 are valid for 15 years from the date of issuance, whilst those filed prior to May 13, 2015 have a term of 14 years from the date of issuance.

Unlike the aforementioned countries, as well as many other jurisdictions, design patents in the US are not subject to maintenance fees or annuities.

For those who wish to file for and obtain design rights in multiple jurisdictions, international and regional systems exist which allow applicants to obtain protection in several countries in an often more efficient and cost effective way than filing in individual states separately. As with each jurisdiction, these design right systems possess their own procedures for renewal fees and payment.

An industrial design right applied for via the Hague System, for example, has the same effect in each designated state as it would if it were filed directly in that jurisdiction. They are valid for an initial period of five years from the date of the international registration, which is defined as the date of filing of the international application.

International industrial design rights may be renewed for two initial further 5-year periods, prolonging the validity term for up to 15 years. Thereafter, a right can be renewed up to the limit of years prescribed in the national or regional law of each designated state in which the design is granted. The WIPO will remind the right holder to renew a design six months prior to the due date of the renewal.

A Community Design is a design right registered via the regional system of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Once a community design has been granted, it is valid for a period of 5 years counted from the date of filing.

It is possible for rights owners to renew the design a further four times for periods of 5 years respectively, meaning a EUIPO registered community design can be valid for a full term of 25 years in total.

The renewal fees are due during the last 6 months of any given 5 year protection period, and late renewal is possible within a six-month grace period by paying a corresponding surcharge.

Industrial designs filed and granted through the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) have a validity term of 10 years from the filing date. The annuity fees are due on each anniversary of the filing date and are payable in respect of each designated state. They can also be paid within 6 months after the due date on the condition that the corresponding surcharge is paid.

As industrial design renewal procedures are subject to variation from country to country, applicants should take note of any annuity payment deadlines and fees in each jurisdiction they wish to maintain design rights. If you require advice on the renewal of design rights, or simply further information, please contact us.

What’s priority right?

Priority right, which is activated by the first filing, shows that you’ve been the first to apply for an invention, industrial design or trademark. To make use of it, you need to claim your priority right when filing abroad.

What’s the time limit for claiming priority?

Applicants have “twelve months for patents and utility models, and six months for industrial designs and trademarks” (Paris Convention, Art.4) from the filing date of the initial application to take further actions.

Why shall I claim priority?

The Patent Office will decide on the novelty of your invention (check out our post on novelty) based on the priority date. If you filed without priority, all the information that became known in the world (including your first application, if published) would be a part of the state of the art, and your invention would no longer be considered new or novel.

All in all, priority claim preserves the rights of the applicants who want to obtain protection for their intellectual property in more than one country.

Today, we again discuss the three “pillars” of patent law and explore industrial application or applicability, which is one of the patentability requirements. The invention is considered to be industrially applicable if subject matter experts can reproduce and make use of it based on their general knowledge.

The definition is more or less the same in many European countries: the possibility to be “made or used in any kind of industry, including agriculture” (Art. 57, the EPC).

Until recently, interpretation of the industrial application was limited to what is stated above, but in 2005 the Boards of Appeal of the EPO ruled that the requirement of industrial application is only fulfilled if there is commercial benefit from the practical application of the invention.

Fun fact: this requirement excludes a range of absurd inventions from being considered as patentable. For example, if an invention contradicts the laws of physics, it cannot be industrially applicable and is, therefore, not patentable.

The first step on the way to securing your rights is filing of an application. However, there is one issue to consider before launching the process – can you make your first filing abroad?

In many countries, there is a foreign filing license requirement obliging inventors to file first in the country where they created an invention OR obliging nationals of the country to file in their home country before seeking protection abroad.

For example, India and Kenya apply this requirement to their nationals or residents only, while Russia, China, and the USA require first filing of applications for the inventions made in the country regardless of the inventor’s nationality.

If you are not sure where to file first, seek legal advice or feel free to contact us for support.