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The USPTO organizes all patents into the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system. This system is an important tool for searching patents that relate to specific subject matter or share certain features in common. For example, all patents for pickup truck bed liners will be found in the same classification regardless of the actual words used to describe them. Each classification represents a group of 50 to 300 patents that share certain features, as set forth by the classification system. The CPC classification code is a sequence of letters and numbers.
For example, the sequence "G06Q 10/087" means:
- section G
- class G06
- subclass G06Q
- group 10
- subgroup 087
Classification searches cover all utility, design and plant patents issues by the U.S. Federal government (1790 to present) and patent applications published by the USPTO (April 2001 to present). This search method does not include foreign patents or non-patent literature (NPL), such as technical publications, scientific journals, trade catalogs, and books.
Advantages: Since classification searching relies on the features of a patent, rather than the words used to describe the patent, all patents that utilize specific features will be returned as a search result. Additionally, classification searches will retrieve all patents from 1790 to present; there is no date restriction.
Disadvantages: Searchers new to the concept of classification searching will ideally spend time learning how to find and use classifications to retrieve patents. Also, the development of new classifications is a reactive process which means that the USPTO develops new classifications as a result of new patent trends. Consequently, new searchers may have difficulty finding patents in very new technological areas.
Below is a short video on finding classifications on the USPTO Classification Web Site.