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The "extended" (INPADOC) patent family

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The bibliographic and legal status databases form the basis of the EPO's raw data resources (INPADOC). In February 2008 the bibliographic data included about 60 million bibliographic data sets from almost 80 different countries. The legal status database contains a collection of more than 50 million legal events from 48 countries.

From the beginning, the concept was to cover as many countries and as many publication levels as possible. One of the strongest motives for the integration of INPADOC into the EPO was the wish to combine the particular strengths of INPADOC with the EPO's existing in-house bibliographic database, "DOC-DB".

Following integration of the two databases in the 1990s, the raw data behind both databases is now the same. And since Espacenet draws on the same pool of data as raw data resources (INPADOC) and DOC-DB, it contains the same documentation.

However, the philosophy of the "extended" (INPADOC) patent family is quite different, and so are the results of family searches. Unlike the "also published as" feature in Espacenet, which only shows "equivalents", i.e. almost identical documents, an INPADOC family search should retrieve all documents relating in any way to the root document.

Features of INPADOC

When using INPADOC via one of the commercial database host services, it bears all the Espacenet features, plus the following:

  • Standardisation of applicant and inventor names
  • References to abstracts from Chemical Abstracts and Thomson Scientific Abstracts are made within the patent family
  • By including the legal status database additional information is available and additional family links can be established
  • National application numbers, international application numbers and domestic relations are included in the family search

For both the EPO's raw data resources (INPADOC) and Espacenet, even where no priority has been claimed by the patent applicant, artificial or "intellectual" links are built in in a systematic way for the complete PCT minimum documentation. The same is done for older documents (pre-1968) for which the priority information is not complete.

Definition of the "extended" (INPADOC) patent family

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

In the case shown below, documents D1 to D5 belong to the same patent 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

As mentioned above, national application numbers, international application numbers and domestic relations are included in the family search.

In the "extended" (INPADOC) patent family it does not matter where you start the search. It can be an application number, a priority application number or a publication number.

If the search starts with a publication number, all application numbers, domestic application numbers, priority numbers and international application numbers are used to retrieve additional documents. For all documents found in this step, step one is repeated. This iteration process ends only when no more new documents can be found.

Raw data resources (INPADOC) also use some additional sophisticated rules for certain countries, for example if publication numbers are used instead of priority numbers in the original documents. This happened rather frequently for older documents, when the priority claims were not treated as carefully as they are now.

The inclusion of legal status information in the patent search also sometimes retrieves additional links, e.g. for divisional applications, continuations, continuations in part or national publications of first filings of PCT (international) applications, where the priority links are often missing.

Limitations of the family search in raw data resources (INPADOC)

Like all other patent databases, the EPO's raw data resources (INPADOC) have to rely on the correctness of the data supplied by the co-operating patent offices and the extent to which it is up to date. In particular, delays in the delivery of bibliographic data can vary significantly depending on the country concerned and the time period covered. Before relying on the completeness of a patent family, users should check where there are gaps or delays in certain areas. You can find this kind of information in the statistics on the internet, which are updated weekly and contain indications of missing or delayed document series. See raw data resources (INPADOC) useful tables and statistics.To be absolutely sure about the actual status of a patent, users are recommended to contact the appropriate patent issuing authority direct.

Particular care has to be taken in the case of European patents which have entered into the national phase. Here the completeness and accuracy of data can vary significantly from country to country. A good overview of the volume and kind of "post-grant" information available in raw data resources (INPADOC) can be found in the raw data resources (INPADOC) FAQ. For most of the EPO member states, information about the validation, lapse, etc., of European patents is given as part of the legal status information, and as mentioned before is less consistent due to the different quality of data available. Starting from week 50/2007, additional post-grant information is taken from the fee administration system and included in the legal status part of the database.

Example of an "extended" (INPADOC) patent family

The same example is used as for the Espacenet patent family previously (US5402857). See the example as a PDF document.

As you can see, the iterative INPADOC search retrieves 81 document records, of which Espacenet displayed only five. The information available includes 323 legal status events (not shown in the example above). This higher recall of documents reflects not only the different philosophies of the two systems, but also the fact that INPADOC displays all publication levels within one country as separate family members.  

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