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Create your own file number system to grow with your IP program

You have many intellectual property assets including patents and trademarks developed in-house or acquired. You likely have multiple law firms or agencies. The lack of a system of file numbers hinders IP management. Thus, consider a new IP file numbering system.

Reasons to use your own file numbers

There are plenty of reasons to use your own numbers. Two key ones are names are not good enough, and using your patent agent or trademark agent’s numbers has problems. 

Using names has many pitfalls

Names are not good enough for innovations and patent records. Name of inventions change all the time. Two co-inventors will call the same thing by different names. The title of a patent application can change during prosecution and may not even be in a language you can read.  Titles also don’t show patent families. 

A black and white print of twelve snowflakes in great detail.
Recognizing innovations by sight isn’t easy. Sure they are unique but so are snowflakes. (Wilson A. Bentley, Snowflakes Photomicrographed, c. 1890. Albumen print.)

You don’t want to use the name of a trade secret as its identifier.  “Secret recipe for XYZ” is already descriptive plus adds a “steal me” sign. 

There are a few common pitfalls with name in trademarks. You likely will have many trademarks with the same name – your name – or with no name – your logo.  Plus there is a big difference between ACME for US and ACME for MT – Malta.  

A flock of pink flamingos. It posses the question, who is who in the IP zoo?
Who is who in the IP zoo?

Reusing a numbering system

You already have some numbers from your patent and trademark agents. But using these numbers makes it harder when you change firms – e.g., firm folds, you terminate relationship.  As well, if you have multiple firms working for you the numbers will be different or worse you will have collisions.  

A photograph of pile of abacuses. The point is, it is not enough to work, your numbering system should be familiar to you.
It is not enough to work, your numbering system should be familiar to you. 

Create your own file number system

Consider creating your own docket numbers. This is about as dull a topic as there is in IP law but get it wrong and you won’t be able to effectively manage a large IP portfolio. As with any coding system whatever you choose should outlast future changes in organization size and structure. But don’t overdo it. A system that last ten (10) years is more than enough. Five (5) is enough. Generally, in acquisition, your system will be replaced after a year or two.

We know the last thing you want is more numbers. But if you identify the IP by number and type you will have a key you can use in databases and spreadsheets.  This will help. Plus you can track IP by families.

An image of the pavement in a school yard with a grid of numbers painted on the ground.
Yes we know you don’t need more numbers in your life. But consider the benefits.

Things to track using your new system

You can track all forms of intangible assets using your new system. Folding in IP under intangible assets is a good way to future-proof the system and make it more robust. However,  track the IAs that are relevant to your company. 


  • Agreement 
    • Nondisclosure agreement 
    • Licence
    • Sale 
  • Copyright
  • Design patent or right
  • Innovation
  • Patent
  • Trade secret
  • Trademark
  • Identifiers
    • URLs for domains 
    • Handles on social media

Further information on IP number systems and IP management

For more information see

  • Willie Peacock, “How to Set Up a Matter Numbering System At Your Law Firm” Clio blog, 2020 May 22
  • Law Society of Ontario, “File Management” Practice guide
  • DBC, 2023 “Tangible and intangible assets” Glossary

For more information in IP management see 


If you have a unique way to identify your IP files you can manage your portfolio better including with advanced budgeting.  And we have often seen clients wait too long to bring in outside help on patent matters and suggest you don’t do the same here. The principals at Perpetual Motion Patents have extensive experience as in-house IP managers. If you would like help implementing a file number system please do contact us

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