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CHEM 403 - Seminar: Patents

What is a Patent?

Essentially, a patent = protection.


Within the United States, Patents were authorized by the Constitution of the United States - Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8:  "The Congress shall have power......To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."  


Patent Basics

In order for something to be "patentable", it needs to be meet some basic criteria.  It nees to be deemed useful/utilitarian.  It needs to be novel.  It needs to be non-obvious/ingenious.  Novelty and non-obviousness are decided once all other publicly-known similar items have been considered and evaluated against the intended patented item.  Once these three evaluative criteria have been clearly met, a patent can be applied for.

There are three types of patents: utility patents (issued for a process, a machine, an "article of manufacture", or any new useful improvement); design patents (issued for a new original, and ornmanetal design of something); and plant patents (issued for asexually reproduced, clearly distinct new variety of plants.)  


Patent Searching Tips

A slightly odd thing when it comes to searching patents is that you should not search the databases to the right using keywords that describe how the  invention will be used.  Rather, you need to use keywords that describe how the invention will work.  This is a slight tweak to most people's way of thinking, and sometimes can be a struggle.  Try using the tips below to help you out:

  • List several descriptors for the invention - add in synonyms for these descriptions.  
  • Ask yourself the following questions, which will help you come up with additional keywords to search with:
    • What does this invention do that is so unique?
    • What is special/unexpected about this invention?
    • What is the end result of this invention?
    • What material has this invention been fabricated from, or made with?
    • What verbs can you come up with to describe what this invention will be used for?

Finding Patents

There are basic places to start searching for a patent.  

Below are three fantastic & official places to start.  

~ Also remember that SciFinder Scholar allows you to search for patents! ~


  • One of the main places you can search for a US Patent is through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Records for US patents go back to 1790, and full-text information about patents is available from 1976-present.  A TIFF viewer is, however, required to view or print these USPTO documents.  


  • Another source for searching for patents is through the Canadian Patents Database (CIPO).   The CIPO contains patent records starting in 1869, and has full-text patent records beginning in 1920 to the present.



  • The third and final great place to start looking for patent information is through the European Patent Office (EPO).  The EPO is a fully international parent database that contains patent records and information from more than 72 countries and a variety of regions.