A patent is a type of intellectual property right that protects inventors and their inventions. A patent is typically issued by a national government to the inventor or his/her assignee and grants the inventor exclusive rights to manufacture, use, or sell his or her invention for a set period of time in exchange for full public disclosure of the invention. Patent protection in one country does not necessarily extend to others, depending on international treaties in force at that time. In most cases, the inventor will need to file for a patent in each country where he/she wants patent protection, or through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
A typical patent document or application includes background information (the 'state of the art'), to prove that the invention is new and non-obvious; the nature of any technical problems solved by the invention; a detailed description of the invention and how it work, to prove that the invention is useful or industrially applicable; and illustrations of the invention where appropriate. All of this taken together should provide enough information that anybody having average knowledge in the field of the invention would be able to reproduce the invention.
It is important to understand that a patent does NOT grant the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent through the courts without the aid of the patenting authority.
Patents are a very old type of document. As such they have their own jargon:
Patent searching is best accomplished using specialized patent databases. The following are all highly recommended:
There are three ways to search patents: by patent number, by patent classification, or by keyword. The patent classification system is very complex and confusing to use. See the USPTO classification system here. For this reason, it is seldom used except by patent experts and patent attorneys. Most patent searching is now done by keyword--or number if the number is known.
Here are some tips for improving your search results:
An excellent resource for learning more about how to conduct a patent search can be found in the book "Keyword patent searching online: a workbook" by Gerald R. Black. this book is available in the Galvin Library's reference collection, call number REF.T210.B53x2002.
These websites provide more information on patents and the patenting process:
In the United States, patents are currently granted for a period of 20 years starting from the date the patent was filed with the USPTO and dependent on the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patents are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. U.S. Patent law recognizes three distinct types of patents:
Utility Patents protect useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Some examples: fiber optics, computer hardware, medications. This is the type of patent most people think of when they think of patents.
Design Patents guard against the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for manufactured goods. The look of an athletic shoe, a bicycle helmet, the Star Wars characters are all protected by design patents.
Plant Patents are the way we protect invented or discovered, asexually reproduced plant varieties.