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Patent Families in the Thomson Scientific World Patents Index (WPI) draw together patents covering the same invention. Their relationship is defined by the priority or application details claimed by each document. Thus, in its simplest form, a new document (D1) claiming a unique priority (P1) will be assigned to be the “basic” of its own, new patent family in Thomson Scientific WPI.
Subsequently, if a second document (D2) also claiming priority P1 is received by Thomson Scientific this will be added (as an “equivalent”) to the patent family already containing document D1. Other documents claiming priority P1 will also be added to this family as “equivalents” as they are included in the database. Thus, a patent family may contain anything from a single document to 10 or more. Each patent family represents a single record in the Thomson Scientific WPI database.
The basic document is the first member of a patent family that appears in Thomson Scientific WPI, so it may not necessarily be the first one published for that invention. Differences in the speed that patenting authorities supply data to Thomson Scientific, and in the processing time for documents from different countries may affect which document appears in Thomson Scientific WPI first and becomes basic.
Patents often claim more than a single priority and these must match before any equivalent is added to a family. This means that if a basic document (D3) claims priorities P2, P3 & P4, a subsequent document (D4) claiming priorities P2 & P3 will be added to the family as an equivalent, whereas patent D5 which claims priorities P2, P3 and a unique priority (P5) will form the basic of a new, but related patent family. In cases such as this, the accession number of any related family is included in the cross-reference field of each relevant Thomson Scientific WPI record.
Divisions and continuation patents maintain the same status as the original specification. This means that if GB1 is a basic, and GB2 is divisional to GB1, then GB2 will also be a basic (in its own family). However, if GB1 is equivalent to another document already in the Thomson Scientific WPI database, then GB2 will also join this family as an equivalent. It should be noted that family relationships will be defined by the order in which patents appear in Thomson Scientific WPI.
Thomson Scientific also puts a lot of resources into including patents in families even when no foreign priority is claimed, e.g. when an application has been made beyond the 12 months defined by the Paris Convention. Thomson Scientific identifies these "non-convention" equivalents by the presence of foreign nationals and addresses in the Inventor field in the absence of priority data other than the local filing details. Equivalency is determined through a time-consuming manual check of inventors, subject matter, etc.
In this way Thomson Scientific attempts to make patent families in Thomson Scientific PI as comprehensive as possible. However, because of the incidence of multiple priorities, and patent divisions and continuations (especially continuing applications in US documents), it is important to retrieve all related families through their common priorities in order to have a comprehensive overview of patent family relationships.