Background and resources for patents

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Jay McAllister

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Note about this Guide

This guide is purely for helping you learn about and search for patents. If you need legal assistance, please consult a licensed lawyer.

Searching online means that your work could be tracked. Sites like Google Patents and the European Patent Office specifically track searches. Check with your professor to determine whether this a potential problem.

Did you know...

80% of all patents hold information that is not published anywhere else in the world.

Source: Penn State. (2017) Retrieved from:


About Patents

  • What is a patent?
    • The legal right to be the only one who can make, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years.
    • Patents give the owner/inventor exclusive rights to prevent others from making or selling the invention.
    • U.S. patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There are about 300,000 submitted applications every year.
    • 3 types of patents:
      • Utility (91%) - process, machine, item manufactured, or composition of matter.
      • Design (9%) - design for an item manufactured.
      • Plant (0.5%) - new variety of plant species.
  • A patent grants the inventor the right to
    • Decide who may use the patented invention.
    • Come to an agreement with other parties so that they have permission to use the invention.
    • Sell the right to the invention to someone else.
  • What can be patented?
    • In order to be granted a patent, the inventor MUST disclose all information about the process, design, or plant. The patent must show all three of the following areas:
      • Novelty - no else is doing it, knows about it, has written about it, or is manufacturing it.
      • Usefulness - what use does it have?
      • Non-obvious - an expert in the field would evaluate it and see if it is truly different and not an additional step.
  • What is "prior art" and how it relates to patents?
    • "Prior art" refers to any proof that the idea exists in the public domain.
    • If the invention has been disclosed anywhere, including patents, your invention can be considered invalid. Prior art can be found in literature works like dissertations, trade journals, government reports, or anything available in the public domain.
  • Not everything is patented
    • Technology for the public good - HTML, internet, company/trade secrets, etc.