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Lichtenberger Engineering Library


All about Patents

Why search the patent literature?

  • Identify new research fronts and/or licensing opportunities
  • Avoid duplication of research efforts
  • To learn how something works (diagrams, detailed description)
  • To find information on a company’s activities, or identify experts in a field
  • Gain protection for an idea or invention
  • It is estimated that 85-90% of technical information disclosed in patents appear no place else

What is a patent?

  • A monopoly for about 20 years in the country in which the patent is issued.
  • It gives the patent owner exclusive rights to exclude others from making or selling the invention.
  • U.S. Patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. USPTO handles over 300,000 patent applications per year. Most countries have their own intellectual property office.
  • A patent held in the U.S. only means that your rights in the U.S. are protected. Inventors must file patents in several places to get comprehensive coverage. This means that there are many, many places to find patent literature.
  • More than 8 million US patents have been awarded since 1790.
  • There are 3 types of patents: Utility (91%), Design (9%), Plant (0.5%).

What is patentable?

Inventions have to meet three main criteria:

  • Novel (unique and new, never made public in any way, anywhere, before the date of the filed application)
  • Useful
  • Non-obvious to someone skilled in the art (Note: to be patented, full disclosure of the technology must be provided.)

Patent applications

  • Patent applications are released to the public 18 months after the initial application. In the USPTO website patent applications are found in a separate database.
  • Term “prior art” – patent term meaning – Is there proof that the idea exists in the public domain somewhere?
  • If idea or invention has been disclosed anywhere (in the world) – not just in patents – it can invalidate your idea or invention. Prior art can be found in the literature of the field – dissertations, juried journal articles, trade journals, proceedings from meetings, government reports (anything in the public domain).
  • Not everything is patented – technology for the public good – HTML, the web, OR company or trade secrets, Silly Putty, Coca Cola