A patent family is "a set of patents taken in various countries to protect a single invention (when a first application in a country – the priority – is then extended to other offices)." In other words, a patent family is "the same invention disclosed by a common inventor(s) and patented in more than one country." Patent families can be regarded as a "fortuitous by-product of the concept of priorities for patent applications".
Simple patent family: All patent documents have exactly the same priority date or combination of priority dates.
Extended patent family: All patent documents are linked (directly or indirectly) via a priority document belonging to one patent family. The extended families allow for additional connectors to link other than strictly priority date. These include: domestic application numbers, countries that have not ratified the Paris Convention, or if the application was filed too late to claim priority.
Those are not the only possible definitions of a patent family, however. Another definition, which is broader than the "simple patent family" definition but narrower than the "extended patent family" definition, is to consider that "[a]ll the documents having at least one common priority belong to the same patent family."
In general, "[p]atent families are [effectively] defined by databases, not by national or international laws, and family members for a particular invention can vary from database to database."
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Economic Analysis and Statistics Division, OECD science, technology and industry scoreboard: towards a knowledge-based economy, OECD Publishing, 2001, ISBN 92-64-18648-4, ISBN 978-92-64-18648-4, page 60.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office web site, Glossary. Consulted on April 27, 2009.
- "Beyond patent families – an updated perspective" (PDF). Patent Information News. European Patent Office (1): 4–5. March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- "Patent families > Definitions". European Patent Office. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- "Patent families > The "extended" (INPADOC) patent family". European Patent Office. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- Simmons, E S (2009). ""Black Sheep" in the patent family". World Patent Information (31): 11–18. cited in "Beyond patent families – an updated perspective" (PDF). Patent Information News. European Patent Office (1): 4–5. March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- Patent families on the Espacenet web site
- Patent families on the European Patent Office web site
- Guidelines for Examination in the EPO, section b-ix, 2.4 : "Patent family system"
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