Definitions

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An overview of the three main types of patent family is given below based on the following example: 

Document D1 Priority P1      
Document D2 Priority P1 Priority P2   
Document D3 Priority P1 Priority P2   
Document D4    Priority P2 Priority P3
Document D5       Priority P3

Definition 1: The simple patent family

All documents having exactly the same priority or combination of priorities belong to one patent family.

In this case, document D1 is the only document in family P1, D2 and D3 belong to family P1-P2, D4 belongs to family P2-P3, and D5 to family P3. 

Document D1 Priority P1     FAMILY P1
Document D2 Priority P1 Priority P2   FAMILY P1-P2
Document D3 Priority P1 Priority P2   FAMILY P1-P2
Document D4   Priority P2 Priority P3 FAMILY P2- P3
Document D5       Priority P3 FAMILY P3

If all the priorities of two documents are the same, they are referred to as "equivalents". This definition is currently used in Espacenet for listing the documents under "also published as" on the bibliographic data view.

Definition 2:

All the documents having at least one common priority belong to the same patent family.

In this case, documents D1, D2 and D3 belong to family P1, documents D2, D3 and D4 to family P2, and documents D4 and D5 to family P3.

  FAMILY P1 FAMILY P2 FAMILY P3
Document D1 Priority P1    
Document D2 Priority P1 Priority P2  
Document D3 Priority P1 Priority P2  
Document D4   Priority P2 Priority P3
Document D5     Priority P3


The family (or list of documents) according to this definition can be found on Espacenet by entering a priority number in the appropriate field on the search form. The family is then displayed in the results list (hit list).

Read more information on patent families in Espacenet

Definition 3:

All the documents directly or indirectly linked via a priority document belong to one patent family.

In this case, documents D1 to D5 belong to the same patent family, P1. 

FAMILY P1

Document D1 Priority P1      
Document D2 Priority P1 Priority P2  
Document D3 Priority P1 Priority P2  
Document D4   Priority P2 Priority P3
Document D5     Priority P3


Definition 3 is a much broader definition of a patent family and can be described as an "extended" (INPADOC) patent family. The "extended" (INPADOC) family takes the domestic application numbers as additional connecting elements and even includes documents having the same scope but lacking a common priority (e.g. if the country concerned has not ratified the Paris Convention, or if the application was filed too late to claim the priority). This type of patent family is of special interest to patent attorneys and patent departments in industry.

Read more about patent families in the EPO's raw data resources (INPADOC).

Read about patent families in the Thomson Scientific World Patents Index (WPI).

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