Article by Ian Cockburn Marketing Manager, Patmark Research Limited, with expert help from Mary Bonsell, Senior Technical Information Officer, World Intellectual Property Organization

One of the hot topics in today’s Intellectual Property (IP) world is IPC Reform. International Patent Classification edition 8 (IPC8), the first edition of the reformed IPC, will come into effect on 1st January 2006. IPC8, also referred to as IPC 2006, will replace the latest and current edition IPC7.

On first blush IPC8 will not seem radically different from IPC7. For example, the rules, purpose, and structure of the IPC symbols used for searching will not fundamentally change. But, there will be changes that everyone should be aware of, such as the introduction of version indicators and a two-level approach to classification.

Most notably, the IPC Reform will improve the behind the scenes systems of IPC and will make searchers use of IPC more effective and will reduce searching times. In addition, the IPC symbols defining technology fields and the master electronic database that records IPC symbols (to which patent documents relate) will be updated more often.

Consequently, whether you are a searcher, a Patent Attorney, Patent Examiner or IP Manager, this article endeavours to background the IPC reform and to encourage you, as an IP Professional, to take advantage of the implications of, and to discover the benefits of this important event.

Information about IPC and its reform is available from the IPC website at The IPC8 is due to be published by the 1st July 2005.

What is IPC Reform?

The purpose of the IPC is to classify patent documents according to the technical field in which they lie, independent of both language and terminology.

The reform of the IPC was launched to take advantage of the electronic environment to address several important issues facing the IPC system, as discussed below.

  • The IPC reform allows for more regular updating "Revision" of the IPC to take account of new technologies, and allowing better classification, earlier, for technological growth areas.
  • The IPC reform will make it mandatory for all major patent collections (defined as PCT Minimum Documentation1) to be updated and reclassified into the latest IPC edition. This will enable searchers of "older" technologies to search a single edition of IPC with greater confidence.2
  • The IPC reform will also allow less well-resourced IP Offices or those containing smaller collections to classify to a broader or "Core" level.
  • Over time, useful information will be added to a new "electronic layer", to help you search the IPC effectively and efficiently.

Would it have been possible to get rid of the IPC system and use or create another system? No, the IPC system is used by more than 100 countries as a major, or the only, form of classification. For more see

What Implications will IPC Reform have on Patent Users?

As from 1st January 2006:

  • Some entries of IPC7 will be amended and a number of new entries will be added to IPC8. For example, a new main group A61K36 relating to "traditional herbal medicines" has been added in IPC8.
  • The reformed IPC has a two-level: core3 and an advanced4 level structure. The core level will better satisfy differing needs of small and medium-sized IP Offices. Whereas those providing and searching larger patent collections will use the advanced level.
  • Patent documents in major patent collections will be reclassified (if the classification area has changed during the revision cycle) to the latest edition of the IPC, prior to the entering into force of each edition. Searchers will no longer need to search different versions of IPC to ensure a full coverage search.
  • Patent classifications (previous, current, and future) will be maintained in a Master Classification Database (MCD). MCD data will be accessible via esp@cenet. The MCD will be a powerful tool for finding relevant patent documents quickly and accurately according to the most recent version of the IPC.
  • WIPO has made a commitment to ensure that various search aids will be made available to benefit all searchers. As an example, the translation and natural language search tool (TACSY) will be provided to the public in at least two languages. TACSY will allow non-IPC specialists to find IPC symbols using a few key words and synonyms. Try it at
  • An electronic layer containing supplementary information is included on the Internet version of the IPC. Illustrations, definitions, formulae, and examples will help you know when you have found an (in)appropriate class. While some definitions will be available on 1st January 2006, the electronic layer will become rich and increasingly more valuable over time.
  • The format of the IPC symbols will not change substantially. There will be no dramatic change altering the way you use IPC classification symbols for searching.
  • The presentation of classification symbols appearing on the front pages of published patent documents has been revised, most notably to reflect the version of the classification symbol.5

In the long term:

  • As technologies emerge and then develop, the number of patent documents in specific classes can grow unmanageably large, so much so that it becomes inefficient and dangerous to search large classes. The IPC reform will enable classification entries to be added, deleted or divided within a three-month advanced level classification revision cycle. Formerly the IPC was revised every five years. The shortened revision cycle will allow for a more dynamic classification system to more closely reflecting the state of the art.
  • Collections held by smaller IP Offices will be classified only to "Core" Level. Searchers should be aware of this when performing "National" searches, where a broader approach may be necessary. Core level searches will, nevertheless, be a more than useful tool for gathering statistics or for technology watching purposes.

How will IPC7 and IPC8 core and advanced levels differ?


Current IPC7

Core level IPC8

Advanced Level IPC8


Superceded by advanced level IPC8

A subset of the advanced level of IPC8

A revised version of IPC7, includes core level


Not compatible with IPC8

Compatible with advanced level

Compatible with core level

Revision cycle

Every 5 years using traditional revision procedure

Every 3 years using traditional revision procedure

Every 3 months by Special Subcommitee according to accelerated procedure

Number entries



70,000 (growth rate will rapidly increase)

Example of Classification Symbol on Published patent document

(51) Int. Cl.7
H05K7/10, G06F1/16

(51) Int. Cl. (2006)
A01B 3/00
A01B 15/00

See Footnote 6

(51) Int. Cl.
G01N 21/39 (2006.01)
H01S 3/042 (2007.01)
F25B 21/02 (2006.01)

See Footnote7

Number of months published before entering into force

6 months

6 months

3 months

Probable user groups

All users of IPC

IP offices with small to medium sized collections; general public; Statistics gatherers; technology watchers

IP offices with medium to large sized patent collections; general public

Probable uses

Used by IP Offices,

applicants, and IP professionals in more than 100 countries.

Search in small IP Offices, dissemination of patent information, data routing, statistics

Provide further detail to allow a more precise search of the world’s patent literature; search in international patent files (PCT Minimum Documentation patent collections)

Publication medium

Paper; internet

Paper; internet (principal form)

Internet (principal form)

Other features


Includes explanations, illustrations, definitions (on Internet medium)

Includes explanations, illustrations, definitions

What are the benefits of IPC reform?

All patent IPC users will be affected by IPC reform. The effects are positive, particularly in the long term. The benefits are summarised below.

  • If you are already familiar with IPC7, you will be able to attribute and determine IPC symbols in the same manner as you have been accustomed, you will not need to learn a new classification system.
  • If you are not familiar with the IPC classification system, the reformed IPC and its aids and tools will help you learn
  • You can choose to search patents classified to the core level and / or the advanced level. For example you may use the core level class to search Irish patents but advanced level symbols to search European patents.
  • You will need to determine and search using only the latest edition for the major patent collections.
  • The IPC will be more responsive and up-to-date, to keep track with recent technology explosions.
  • In the advanced level of the reformed IPC there will be less patent documents in each class, these fewer patent documents will be more relevant to the technology you are searching for.
  • The Internet version of the reformed IPC will illustrate, exemplify, further and better define IPC symbols, in an ongoing capacity.
  • Search aids such as a translation and natural language search tool (TACSY) will be provided at no cost to the public.

How can I find out more about IPC reform?

As you have been reading this article you will have noticed reference to many sources available on the IPC website. WIPO encourages you to bookmark and consult this page regularly as more information becomes available as we approach the new year and the dawn of the IPC reform.


1. See for more information.

2. For more, see the FAQ section of

3. In the example screenshot above, the core level classification entries have a white background. Core level classification entries being broader in scope are higher in the IPC hierarchy (or in other words they have less dots in front of the definitions).

4. The advanced level classification entries consist of all entries (with both white and yellow backgrounds).

5. Refer to for information about the presentation of Classification symbols in the core and advanced levels. Alternatively refer to the IPC Guide, which will be available from

6. The example of a classification of core level symbols represents one core level classification symbol representing invention information: A01B 3/00; and one core level classification symbol representing additional information: A01B 15/00. At the time of classification of a patent document the current version indicator of the core level (year) is placed in round brackets after the abbreviation "Int. Cl.", if the document is classified, at least partially, using the core level. Be aware that the classification symbol indicated on a paper (or electronic version of) a previously published patent document may be no longer be current.

7. The example of advanced level symbols indicate: two advanced level classification symbols representing invention information: G01N 21/39, H01S 3/042; and one advanced level classification symbol representing additional information: F25B 21/02. This version indicator for each IPC symbol indicates when this symbol was created or substantially revised at the advanced level (year, month), is placed in round brackets after each IPC symbol. Be aware that the classification symbol indicated on a paper (or electronic version of) a previously published patent document may be superseded by a revised classification symbol on the up-to-date MCD database.

The author has endeavored to be as accurate as possible when preparing this article and has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate and up-to-date. More information will become available about IPC reform throughout 2005 and beyond. You should consider the IPC website at as the authoritative and up to date source for IPC reform information.