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Patents are defined as “A license to manufacture, sell, or deal in an article or commodity, to the exclusion of other persons; in modern times, a grant from a government to a person or persons conferring for a certain definite time the exclusive privilege of making, using, or selling some new invention.” (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd edition).
There are generally 4 types of patents:
Utility Patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof. This is the primary type of U.S. Patent.
Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plants.
Reissue Patents are granted if there is a substantial error or errors in the original patent.
Also see The Inventor Handbook from M.I.T. Lemelson Center for answers to questions such as “What is Intellectual Property?”, “What can be Patented?”, “Is My Idea Patentable?”….
There are numerous free online patent resources that you can use to identify U.S. and Worldwide patents.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government agency responsible for registering and granting patents/ trademarks. You can search its database which includes full text of patents from 1790 – present.
There are multiple ways to search for patents such as assignee, patent number, Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC), keywords, etc.
Note: Currently, you can only search by patent numbers and/or classification codes for pre-1976 patents
A great way to identify similar patents, as well as identify the classification of your patent, is to search by Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC). For help searching by CPC see the USPTO Seven Step Strategy page. More information on this topic can be found on the USPTO Patent Classification and Standards homepage .
In addition, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) hosts the the International Patent Classification that can also be useful when searching for international patents.
From the European Patent Office (EPO), Espacenet offers worldwide free access to information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today.
Access to patents back to 1920 with keyword searching for patents back to 1978. Earlier patents are searched by patent number, title, inventor/assignee, or classification.
Google Patents is another source used to find U.S. patents, as well as EPO and WIPO patent documents. It includes over 87 million patent publications from 17 patent offices around the world. Great for keyword searches of pre-1976 U.S. patents, however, the OCR is not 100% reliable.
Some UCD subscription databases can be used to identify patents and patent literature. Below is a selection of the Library’s subscription databases that can be used to identify patents:
Contains information on chemical patents 1976 – present
Engineering related patents before 1970
These pages include discussion of UC patent license terms, campus contacts for expert advice, and other resources relevant to UC Davis researchers.
USPTO Inventor & Entrepreneur Resources – Landing page for USPTO information on the patent process, Inventor Assistance Center (IAC), and other educational products.
America Invents Act Primer by Sarah Hasford (2017). Available as an ebook.
Patent Technology Monitoring Team (PTMT) studies patent statistical information and prepares reports in a variety of formats.
The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office by Kenneth W. Dobyns (c1994). The book is available in print at various libraries in California, but the author also made the book freely available online.
Women of Invention: Women Inventors and Patent Holders . This guide lists books, journal articles and websites that focus on history of women inventors.
American History and Life: This subscription database from Ebsco can be helpful with identifying articles about the history of patents and invention in the United States.
“Patenting an invention and trademarking a product name can be challenging. Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) library staff are information experts trained on how to use search tools to access patent and trademark information. They provide the human touch that no webpage or legal book can provide in helping inventors and small businesses find the information they need to protect their intellectual property (PTRC, 2017 ).”
We are fortunate to have a PTRC at the California State Library in Sacramento- see its webpage for information. A PTRC representative can help with all sorts of aspects of researching or applying for a patent. Note: PTRC cannot give you legal advice, but they can help you find a patent attorney.