A patent family is a group of patent applications and patents with interrelating priority claims. A priority claim allows a later-filed application to use the filing date of an earlier-filed application to determine how it relates to prior art references.
To understand which applications are part of the patent family, you must understand the different types of claims that a patent application can contain. In the U.S., a patent application can claim the priority of an earlier-filed patent application that was still pending as of the filing date of the later-filed application. The priority claims that can create a patent family include continuation applications, Continuation-In-Part applications, Divisional applications, Non-Provisional Applications Based on Provisional Applications, and U.S. National Stage Applications Based on International or Foreign Applications.
Patent family trees provide a visual representation of a patent family. Like a genealogical family tree, a patent family tree allows a viewer to quickly identify the relationships between related patents and patent applications.
A family tree gives a prosecutor information that helps him/her plan, prepare and prosecute the patent application.
The TIP Tool gathers information from USPTO and EPO to provide an exhaustive list of INPADOC family members. The TIP Tool provides two different visualizations of the family tree of a patent application. It shows a direct relationship between the subject application and its patent and child, as well as indirect relationships as well. The indirect relationships include the same application filed in different countries (hence having a common priority) or siblings of a direct parent (to which the subject application may not be claiming direct priority from, but cover similar technical content).
The visualization of family trees is available in 2 forms in the TIP tool:
- Traditional Patent Family Tree Visualization
In one form, the patent family tree looks like a genealogical family tree. Each box in the family tree represents a separate patent or patent application. The boxes are placed on a horizontal time scale that shows each application’s filing date.
The earliest-filed family members, usually the parents, sit at the top of the tree. The children sit below those applications with lines showing familial relationships. So, in the example family tree below, the subject application (shown in green) has two parents, two children in the U.S., and two foreign children.
When you open an application in the Portfolio Manager, click on Family Tree on the top right hand side of the screen and the traditional family tree will open.
The family tree has an option to view the non-US applications (referred to as Extended family) or only the US applications in the tree. Toggle this button as per your preference.
The legend below defines the relationship between 2 applications. To identify a relationship only between 2 applications of a family, you can select these applications as ‘Source Application’ and ‘Target Application’.
When you select on a particular application on the family tree, the right hand side panel also provides further details on bibliographic information of the selected application. Further, the user can download the patent PDF and also has access to deep links of the application at various public PTOs such as USPTO, EPO etc.
- Gantt Family Tree Visualization
In the Gantt family tree, each patent application is shown as a bar. The horizontal axis represents time. The location and length of the bar for each patent application represent its filing date and expiration date or anticipated expiration date.
A Gantt chart can use different colors to identify different stages in a patent application’s life. For example, a bar can include a green segment for the pendency of the patent application and a blue segment for the term of the issued patent.
This type of visualization allows you to quickly identify the pendency of each application and determine which family members were filed during that time to create a valid priority claim. This type of visualization also quickly illustrates the expiration of each patent in the family.
Adding family members to an existing family tree
The TIP tool provides the list of family members based on the data sourced from USPTO and EPO. However, if you see a family member missing in the tree, the user has an option to manually add a family member.
To add a family member, click on ‘Add Family Members’
A window will pop up.
The user can add the parent continuity data (with respect to the subject application) and/or the child continuity data.
Add details such as application number, filing date and continuity type.
Click on Save.
The application(s) will start reflecting in the family tree.
Similarly, the manually added applications can also be removed from the family tree.