Patent families

Patents are industrial property rights that provide protection in a certain country or countries. Inventions are frequently the subject of patent applications in several different national or regional patent offices or with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Family members and priorities

Where there are several applications or publications for an individual invention (in other countries) claiming the same priority or priorities, we talk about a "patent family". All of these "family members" have priority numbers with associated priority dates in common, in other words, they are related to one another by one or more priority applications.

Applications filed in other countries or languages

Patent applications are often filed in more than one country. You can find out if further applications have been filed in other countries by viewing the patent family of the relevant patent application.

This will tell you the countries in which patent applications were filed and published, which in turn will enable you to monitor the international market in your line of business, keep an eye on the worldwide situation and be aware of innovations and changes.

Patent families can also help to find another language version of a patent document.

Patent families in the European Patent Register

There are various definitions of what constitutes a patent family. However, the differences only become obvious when the structure of a patent application is complex.

Complex structures occur when patent applications are filed in several different countries. In applications of this kind, various earlier applications are often cited as priorities. Moreover, different claims may be accepted or rejected by the various patent offices during the granting process. This then results in patents with different scopes of protection.

In the European Patent Register a patent family is defined as comprising all the documents sharing – directly or indirectly (e.g. via a third document) – at least one priority. This includes all the patent documents resulting from a patent application submitted to a patent office as a first filing and from the same patent application filed within the priority year with a patent office in any other country.

Patent families in Espacenet

In Espacenet, this broad definition of a patent family would be called an INPADOC family. At the same time, a patent family defined as comprising all documents having exactly the same priority or combination of priorities is called a "simple family".

Equivalents are members of a (simple) patent family, which means that they have exactly the same priorities.

In Espacenet, on the other hand, a patent family is defined as comprising all the documents having exactly the same priority or combination of priorities (simple family). However, deeper analysis of certain patent documents might lead to specific priorities being declared "non-active". In other words, these specific priorities are ignored in the building of simple families.