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Is standardisation always a good thing in patents?

The EPO and USPTO have announced  triumphantly that they have completed the Herculean task of creating a consolidated patent classification scheme that provides up to 250,000 individual definitions for areas of science and technology. This project has been the result of several years’ work to harmonise the previously divergent technical classification systems used in the US and Europe to assist patent examiners in prior art searching and examination of patent applications. In essence, every patent application filed is assessed by an examiner and allocated one or often several classifications that cover the technologies used in the invention. Until now different classification strategies were used by the US and Europe often resulting in divergence in the outcomes of patent prior art searching. The intention of the project, called the cooperative patent classification scheme (CPC), according to EPO President Benoit Battistelli, is to “…align our patent procedures more closely and deliver major efficiency gains”. The Director of the USPTO, David Kappos, is perhaps a little more pragmatic about the benefits stating the new scheme is needed to “…eliminate duplication of work between the two Offices”. In fact it represents another step towards global harmonisation of the patent system which would allow applicants to avoid the current process of prosecuting patent applications according to divergent standards in different countries. Surely from a cost perspective this has to be a good thing, right?