Why is a patent family necessary?
Since patents must be applied for at a national level rather than at an international level, it means that a single invention is often associated with numerous identical patents around the world.
For this reason, the idea of a patent family was introduced so that patent analysts can rapidly identify patents that relate to a single invention around the world.
A patent family is a collection of patent applications covering the same or similar technical content.
In other words, it is “the same invention disclosed by a common inventor(s) and patented in more than one country.” Patent families can be regarded as a “fortuitous by-product of the concept of priorities for patent applications”.
According to the Paris Convention, inventors have one year after filing their initial patent in one country to file for the same invention in other countries. They must claim “priority” from that original patent in order to ensure that no invention filed by anyone else in that year can be taken as prior art when assessing patentability. It is also possible that a patent may claim priority to more than document because this patent may be describing multiple similar ideas which can't be all referenced from one previous document.
Also working their way into the definition of a family are different “versions” of documents, such as revisions and amendments to an application, or reissues of granted documents.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is no such thing as an official definition of a patent family:
"Patent families are defined by databases, not by national or international laws, and family members for a particular invention can vary from database to database." – Edlyn Simmons
That said, let’s look at what definitions PatSnap has used for the different types of families…
Extended Patent Family
An extended patent family is a collection of patent documents that cover a technology. The technical content covered by the applications in one extended patent family is similar but not necessarily the same.
Patent applications that are members of an extended patent family will all have at least one priority in common with at least one of the other members – either directly or indirectly.
In PatSnap, you'll find two types of Extended Family:
INPADOC Extended Family
We keep the INPADOC extended patent family the same as OPS (EPO Open Patent Services).
In PatSnap the DOCDB simple patent family is displayed “INPADOC” under the tab “Patent Family”, not all the priorities that are listed in PatSnap patent family data are taken into account.
When using PatSnap, we would recommend using the PatSnap Extended Family, as it will cover more jurisdictions, and uses many cleansing techniques including normalization and data correction to ensure that as many documents are returned as possible.
PatSnap Extended Family
All patent documents are linked (directly or indirectly) via a priority document belonging to one patent family.
The extended families allow for additional connectors to link other than strictly priority date. These include: domestic application numbers, countries that have not ratified the Paris Convention, or if the application was filed too late to claim priority. You can find out more about our Extended Family here: What Is PatSnap's Extended Family?
Simple Patent Family
A simple patent family is a collection of patent documents that are considered to cover a single invention. The technical content covered by the applications in one simple patent family is identical.
In other words, if you’re looking for a group of patents that cover the same invention, look at simple families.
Patent applications that are members of one simple patent family will all have the same priorities.
Continuations and divisionals are considered to cover the same technical content as the parent application. Continuations and divisionals will always be in a patent family with the parent application, regardless of the priorities that they claim.
PatSnap uses the DOCDB definition of Simple Families and consolidates this data directly from the EPO.
If all the priorities of two documents are the same, they are referred to as "equivalents". This is the definition used in PatSnap under “Also published as”.
Note – this rule is good for most situations, but an exception can be when an additional WIPO application is claimed as priority.
How are these families related?
|So, the smallest possible version of a family will be a simple family. Remember, this is typically made of records that claim the same priorities.|
If we link this group of patents with any other patents that claim priority from any of the same documents, we end up with an INPADOC Extended Family.
PatSnap may also find additional (or occasionally less) members of a patent family during our data normalization and linking process, outside of what the INPADOC has defined. We call this PatSnap Extended Families. These additional members will be related to any or all of the simple families.