For inventors, researchers, students and enthusiasts.
Learn how to search patents from home, using the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
For inventors and innovators.
This quick tutorial is guide to searching Patent Applications. PatApps are useful for finding information on patents that have not yet been granted.
Consider Patent Statistics if you are researching industries, companies and technology. This tutorial shows you how to find information about patent activities.
NOT an inventor?
Browse this if you are looking for basic information about Patent and Trademark processes and searching.
Facts, trivia, and history with a Texas accent...suitable for adults and children alike!
The reasons for performing a patent search are many. The most obvious is to determine whether or not you can get a patent or if your invention has already been patented. Other reasons include:
- getting a general idea of how an application and patent is structured to help in the preparation or your own application
- learning more about a new field
- for market information
- competitor tracking
- technology tracking
Types of Patents
There are three different types of patents one can receive depending upon the nature of the invention.
I. Inventions of Utility
A. First the invention must fall into one of five statutory classes if applying for a utility patent. The five statutory classes are:
Including conventional processes (ex. the method for making plastics) and software processes
Including conventional machines, those with moving parts (ex. a telephone) and software machines
- Manufactured Products
Inventions with nonmoving parts (ex. books)
- Compositions of Matter
Examples include chemicals, alloys, and pharmaceuticals
- New Uses of Any of the Above
B. The invention must be useful, even if that use is only amusement.
C. The invention must also satisfy the novelty requirement. In other words, it must be original or something that has never been seen before.
D. Finally, the invention must meet the unobviousness requirement, meaning it would have been unobvious to the people skilled in the area of the invention.
II. Inventions of Design
III. Asexually Reproducible Plants
What is Not Generally Patentable?
- Superior material for inferior
- Change in size, form, or shape
- Mere adjustabilty
- Diminution of parts
- Omission of parts
- Use of old art for another purpose
- Laws of nature
- Physical phenomena
- Abstract ideas
- Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these should be copyright protected)
- Inventions which are against the laws of nature (ex. perpetual motion machines)
- Inventions whose only use is for illegal purposes (ex. torture devices)
Patents are valuable - is false because patents only have commercial value if they can be used to protect a profit stream by excluding others from making, using or selling whatever is covered by the patent's claims. In fact many of those who study patents are fairly certain that less than 2% make any money for anybody.
A patent means the invention works as verified by the government - is false because the government does not get involved in testing inventions to see if they work. In fact US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) auditors believe that as many as 10% of all issued patents are invalid - a high percent of those due to the fact the invention does not work.
You can get a Provisional Patent that is good for 1 year - is false because there is no such thing as a Provisional Patent. What you can do is file a Provisional Application for Patent, the current Small Entity fee is $75, that will provide a date of priority placeholder for you. If you fail to file the full application within 1 year you lose your priority date and may stand to lose substantial other rights as well depending on what you did during that year.
A Provisional Application for Patent just needs to describe the idea - is false because the Provisional Application for Patent must meet exactly the same criteria for full disclosure and providing enabling information to one skilled in the art as the full Patent Application. The Provisional Application does not require the formal structure, the disclosure of prior art, or the claims of the full application and can use less formal drawings.
You can get a patent for an idea - is false because you cannot get a patent far an idea or mere suggestion. Patents are granted to people who (claim to) "invent or discover any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof" to quote the essence of the US statute governing patents. Complete and enabling disclosure is also required.
A patent can be enforced for 20 years - is false because a patent can only be enforced from the time it issues till it expires. New rules provide some guarantee that the enforceable term of a utility patent will be at least 17 years and that some royalties may be collectable when a patent is published before it issues. Design patents are only good for 14 years and only cover the ornamental appearance of the item and not its structure or functionality.
A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention - is false because a patent only give its owner the right to EXCLUDE others from making, using, and selling exactly what is covered by their patent claims. A holder of a prior patent with broader claims may prevent the inventor whose patent has narrower claims from using the inventor's own patent. A patent right is exclusory only.
A US patent is honored world wide - is false because a US patent is only enforceable in the US. It can be used to stop others from importing what is covered by the patent into the US but other people in other countries are free to make, use, and sell the invention anywhere else in the world that the inventor does not also have a patent.
A patent protects and invention - is false because only a patent in conjunction with a legal opinion of infringement will give the owner(s) of the patent the right to sue in a civil case against the alleged infringer. The US Government does not enforce patents (however, the Customs Service can help block infringing imports) and infringement of a patent is not a crime. The responsibility, and all expenses, for enforcing the rights granted by a patent (and securing Customs Service help) lie with the patent owner(s).
The first thing you need to do after having an invention idea is get a patent - is false because there are other, much less expensive, steps you can take to maintain your US and international patenting rights with very little risk. When properly used, the US PTO Disclosure Document Program ($10), non-Disclosure Agreements (Free), and Provisional Applications for Patent ($75) along with maintaining good records and diligent pursuit can keep your patenting rights intact until you do, as a timely business decision, spend the $5,000 to $10,000 it typically takes to get a patent.
A patent attorney has to write and file your patent application - is false because you can write and file your own patent application pro se or you can also have a patent agent write and file your application. A patent attorney is both an attorney and a patent agent. A patent agent can be anyone with sufficient scientific or technical knowledge and who has passed a patent practitioner test administered by the US PTO.
It is very hard to learn how to write your own patent application - is false because many people no smarter than you do it every year. It does take some study and time (reading Patent It Yourself by David Pressman, among other things, is highly recommended) and it is also a very good idea to pay a patent practitioner to review and make suggestions on your application - several times if necessary - before you submit it.
*The information on this page is used courtesy of James E. White, inventor and author of "Will It Sell?..." www.willitsell.com
Why is classification so important?
While it is possible to search patents using keywords, the best way to conduct a comprehensive patent search is by Classification. By determining the Classification of an invention you eliminate any ambiguity that terminology may create.
- Please consider if something is truly new a common term (or name) does not yet exist. For example, before personal computers a mouse was nothing more than a rodent. Thus, having invented the first "Computer Input and Display Control" one would not be able to search for keyword "mouse."
By determining classification you are able to search a group of patents that are similar to the one you are research. This makes it easier to determine patent infringement.
- A classification is used both as a tool for finding patents (patentability searches), and for assisting in the assignment of patent applications to examiners for examination purposes.
- Classifications have definitions.
- Classifications have hierarchical relationships to one another.
For more information please read the USPTO websites Patent Classification Help page.
Patent Application Search Tutorial
This tutorial is separate from the Patent Search Tutorial.
A patent application is a complex legal document that describes an invention in detail. This document is prepared with the intent of submitting it to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the aim of obtaining a patent on the invention. Patents are generally granted for a twenty year period starting from the date of the first patent application.
There are two types of utility patent applications, provisional and non-provisional. A non provisional, or regular, application is the more common of the two. However, since 1995 inventors have had the option of filing a provisional patent application. The provisional application was created in order to give U.S. applicants parity with foreign applicants. Previously, foreigners had an advantage when it came to filing patent applications. They could add a year to the standard twenty year life of a patent by filing an application in their home country and subsequently filing an application in the U.S. They would then claim priority to their home country, which would effectively add a year to the life of the patent. Provisional applications give U.S. applicants this same advantage. Another advantage of provisional applications is that they are less expensive than their regular counterparts. However, there are some important things to consider when filing a provisional application. Provisional applications are good only for 12 months.This means that you must file a corresponding non-provisional application during this time period to take full advantage of the extended12 month time period or face the expiration of your provisional application.