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According to the USPTO “The use of patent classification in searching for U.S. patents and published applications results in a more comprehensive search than one done by word and phrases (keyword searching). Because keyword searching must anticipate the often technical language of patents, it serves best as a supplement to a classification search.” Source:

What is Classification?

Patent Classification systems are systems of codes assigned to patent documents to enable language-independent prior art retrieval.

Patent classification systems organize patent documents into specific technology grouping based on common subject matter to enable documents having similar subject matter to be retrieved quickly and effectively.

There are four major classification systems each comprised of thousands of codes and each having their own nuances and rules for classification.

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There are four major classifications systems, each consisting of a large number of codes
Classification System Number of Possible Codes
Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) 250,000+
United States Patent Classification (USPC) 153,000+
International Patent Classification (IPC) 73,000+
Japanese Classification System FI term list 190,000+
Japanese Classification System F term list 360,000+
Total Number of Possible Classification Codes 1,026,000+

The most widely used classification system is the Cooperative Patent Classification System or CPC.

  • CPC is comprised of over 250,000 codes divided into different sections, classes, main-groups, sub-groups and indexing codes.
  • This system utilizes a complex set of rules including limiting references, non-limiting references, priority rules as well as specific definitions for most codes.

Serco IP has years of experience particular to the CPC system enabling us to understand this complex system and determine classifications quickly and efficiently.

With over 1 million possible classification codes to choose from, it’s easy to miss important codes which would result in incomplete search results, complicated litigation procedures and an increased risk of rejection.  While classification provides a very powerful and sophisticated foundation for effective search, very few working outside of the patent offices understand the nuances to employ it effectively.

Our process of identifying key aspects and assigning classifications has been continually refined.

Serco has been a provider of classification services to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for over a decade.

How does Classification Benefit You?

  • Aligned Approach
    Utilizing a search methodology aligned with the USPTO’s recommended classification-based strategy is much more likely to yield results which may come up in the examination process
  • Maintain Priority
    Since any new inventive subject matter will be given a later priority date than your original submission, it is vital to be equipped with a comprehensive search yielding the most relevant documents
  • Global
    Over reliance on keywords can result in missing relevant references, specifically for generically worded or foreign patent documents
  • Experience
    Serco has classified over 4 million patent applications over the past decade for the USPTO
  • Continual Refinement
    Our process of identifying key aspects and assigning the most relevant classifications has been continually refined and we continually update our systems to use the most current classification schemes
  • Language-Independent
    Since classification systems are designed to be language-independent, detailed classification mapping enables far more relevant and streamlined discovery of prior art
Utilizing a search methodology aligned with the USPTO’s recommended approach is much more likely to yield results which may come up in the examination process.

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Serco IP Services

IP Services Team

(540) 236-5510