Google Patents and Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC)July 24, 2015

Users of Google Patents might have noticed a recent update. In addition to a new interface and layout, the most exciting innovation is an improved searching function.

As background, patentability requires an invention be novel and non-obvious. To determine whether these legal requirements are satisfied, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) substantively examines pending patent applications. When doing so, a patent examiner will search all patents, published patent applications, printed publications, and other published sources with a publication date prior to the effective filing date of the application under examination (collectively called “prior art‚¬).  The patent examiner determines whether the features claimed as the invention in the application are disclosed in the prior art. If claimed features are not disclosed in the prior art, and the other legal requirements of patentability are satisfied, the patent examiner will issue a patent. Given the extraordinary amount of published information throughout the world, a robust prior art search is essential to an effective patent examination process. If prior art is overlooked, a patent might issue that should not have, resulting in weaker patents. A subject of several patent legislative proposals, weak patents stifle innovation, particularly when unduly broad patents are owed by non-practicing entities (i.e., patent “trolls‚¬).

T he United States uses the United States Patent Classification (USPC) as a scheme to improve searching. In the USPC system, similar subject matter has been gathered in large groupings to create classes. Each class is subdivided into smaller units called subclasses. For example, class 62/137 is directed to “refrigeration, apparatus in which the sensing means responds to an accumulation of the congealed product.‚¬ The USPC is only used by the USPTO, whereas many other patent examining authorities (European Patent Office (EPO), Japanese Patent Office, etc.) have used an International Patent Classification (IPC) system.  The use of multiple classification systems can result in suboptimal searches for prior art.

In 2013, the USPTO and EPO developed the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC). The CPC harmonizes the subject matter classifications.  Over the past two years, nearly all patent examining authorities throughout the world have agreed to implement the CPC. This year, the CPC will replace the U PSC as the official patent classification scheme in the United States.

Returning to Google Patents, the CPC is incorporated into the Google Patents result page for each patent and published patent application. This useful feature permits an individual to search other patents and published patent applications from one or more CPC classes associated with the viewed patent or published patent application. Not limited to patent examiners performing substantive examination, the feature can be harnessed by patent practitioners, companies, inventors, licensees, and other individuals with a need to learn, among other things, the novelty of a particular feature of an invention.  The tool can assist in providing improved patentability and freedom-to-operate opinions and higher quality patent applications, and further can provide guidance whether an inventor should file a patent application in the first place.

Not limited to incorporating the CPC into search results, Google Patents also now permits searching based on several additional characteristics, including priority date, filing date, assignee, inventor, patent office, language, filing status and citing patent.   Even more importantly, search results can be further refined by user-selected search terms.  For example, if the patent or patent application at issue is a thermoelectric ice maker, the terms “thermoelectric,””ice maker,””refrigerator,”and the like, can be used to gather the most closely related patents, published patent applications, and other published secondary sources.

These features are significant improvements over not only the previous version of Google Patents, but also the searching methodologies used for decades.  The features will result in an improvement in the quality of patents being issued in the United States and abroad.  Those with interest in patents should become proficient with the new version of Google Patents and the CPC.

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