Patent FAQs and Tutorials
Patent Tutorials from the Engineering Library, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
An excellent collection, including "How to Read a Patent," "How to Search Patents by Subject," "How to Find a Company's Patents," and many more. The author's considerable experience includes seven years at the U.S.P.T.O.
Guide to Patent Searching (McKinney Engineering Library, University of Texas at Austin)
A superb complement to the Queen's University tutorials. Four components cover "Patent Searching on the Internet," "Patent Statistics," "Patent Application Searching," and "Patents & Trademarks in Texas."
Intellectual Property at the University of California
What is a Patent?
A Patent is an official document, issued by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (U.S.P.T.O.), granting property rights to the inventor or to the assignee (the latter is the owner of the patent).
An Inventor is always a person—never a company or any other type of organization.
An Assignee—the owner or holder of a patent—can be a person, or a company, or an organization, or a country.
The term of a patent is generally 20 years from the date of application in the United States, providing that maintenance fees are paid
A patent granted by the U.S.P.T.O. is effective only in the United States, its territories, and possessions.
A patent grants the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing the invention—a patent does not grant “The” right to engage in any of those activities.
The assignee—the patent owner—may license the patent to another party.
Types of Patents
Utility Patents – 20 years from filing; this is the primary type of U.S. patent that is awarded
Examples: chemical; mechanical; electrical
Design Patents – 14 years from issue; awarded for a new, original, and ornamental design for a manufactured article
Plant Patents – 20 years from filing; for the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of any distinct and new variety of plants
Reissue Patents - These are granted when any substantial error or errors are determined to exist in the original patent
What Can Be Patented?
Any new and useful process, machine, manufactured item, or composition of matter, or any new (“novel”) and useful improvement, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.
The “Useful” Requirement:
The invention has a useful purpose
The invention will operate to perform that useful purpose—that is, it works.
The “New,” or “Novelty” Requirement:
The invention has not been disclosed (made public) before (in the United States, there is a one-year grace period following public disclosure)
The invention is not something that would be obvious to “a person having ordinary skill in the art”
For additional details, see Patent Requirements, at BitLaw.com
The Business Value of Patents
As "engines of commerce" and drivers of business activity, patents are issued to promote new inventions (1) by protecting the right of the inventor to profit from the invention, and (2) by publicly disclosing the details of the invention, so that others may enhance and further that knowledge.
As a key source of business information, patents reveal:
• Who is developing products in a particular field?
• Which private enterprises, all but completely “off the radar screens,” can be identified only by their patent activities?
• Which are the newly developing technologies to monitor?
• What are competitors doing—in both the for-profit and not-for-profit “institutional research” realms?
• Which companies or universities are involved in the kind(s) of technology that interest me: as an entrepreneur? as a researcher/student/potential employee?
Patent and Intellectual Property Terminology
"Understanding 'Patentese' - A Patent Glossary"
Originally published in JOM, 48 (9) (1996), pp. 77-79 (member journal of The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society)