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A patent is a grant issued by the U.S. government giving an inventor the right to exclude all others from making, using, or selling his invention within the United States, its territories, and possessions. In return, he must disclose his invention sufficiently for one skilled in the art to practice it.
Inventors search patents to determine prior art. However, patents are an invaluable source of technical information for all researchers. 75% of patent information is not disclosed elsewhere. 39% of U.S. patents are granted to non-U.S. residents.
The full-text of U.S. patents since 1976 and the full-page images of U.S. patents since 1790 are freely available through the Patent and Trademark Database (http://www.uspto.gov/patft/). Special software may be required to view the patent images.
The USPTO reports that the only free, unlimited time TIFF plug-ins offering full-size, unimpeded patent viewing and printing unimpeded by any advertising on Windows® x86 PCs, are:
For the Apple Macintosh®, Apple's freely distributed Quicktime version 4.1 or later works with our images for pre-Safari Macintosh, but does not provide direct printing capability. It is available from the Apple web site (http://www.apple.com/software/) — type "patent" to locate plug-ins for recent versions of Macintosh browsers
For Linux®, a plug-in called "Plugger" (http://fredrik.hubbe.net/plugger.html) works nicely with Netscape Communicator®.
See the software guide (http://www.uspto.gov/patft/help/images.htm) at the USPTO for more information.
Google Patent Search (http://www.google.com/patents/) covers the entire collection of patents made available by the USPTO from patents issued in the 1790s through the present. Google does not require any special software to view the patents.
A free service converts the tiff to pdf (http://www.pat2pdf.org/). You need to enter the patent number to retrieve the pdf.
Subject access to U.S. patents prior to 1976 is only through patent classification number. The patent classification numbers are indexed in the Index to Classification and the U.S. Patent Classification Manual. These publications can be searched using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office WWW site (http://www.uspto.gov/go/classification/).
Definitions of Patent Terms
- The specification must include a written description of the invention and of the manner and process of making and using it, and is required to be in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the technological area to which the invention pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same.
The specification must conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention.
The claims are brief descriptions of the subject matter of the invention, eliminating unnecessary details and reciting all essential features necessary to distinguish the invention from what is old. Novelty and patentability are judged by the claims, and, when a patent is granted, questions of infringement are judged by the courts on the basis of claims.
- The applicant for a patent will usually be required by law to furnish a drawing of the invention whenever the nature of the case admits of it; this drawing must be filed with the application. This includes practically all inventions except compositions of matter or processes, but a drawing may also be useful in the case of many processes.
- While the inventors automatically own their invention, the patent application may be assigned to someone else, either an individual or a legal entity such as a corporation or a partnership.
- Patent Families
- When a patent is granted in a country belonging to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the patentee is granted the exclusive right to seek patent protection in another country for the same invention. The resulting group of equivalent patents is called the patent family.
The Sunnyvale Public Library (http://sunnyvale.ca.gov/Departments/SunnyvalePublicLibrary/ResearchOnline/PatentsandTrademarks.aspx) has the complete text of all U.S. Patents. They also have abstracts of patents published under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (1981-) and the European Patent Office (1979-). Their phone number is (408) 703‑7290.
The California State Library (http://www.library.ca.gov/) is a U.S. Patent Depository Library (http://www.library.ca.gov/gps/pat.html). They have full patent specifications from 1932 to the present. UCD researchers may request patents from the State Library through the Government Information Department.
A variety of databases covering foreign patents may be searched through the United Kingdom Patent Office's WWW (http://gb.espacenet.com/). This server provides access to a variety of databases covering UK Patents, European Patents, and Japanese Patents in English.
Foreign patents may also be searched online using the PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) Gazette (http://www.wipo.int/patentscope/) available through the World Intellectual Property Organization (http://www.wipo.int/).
The complete texts of foreign patents are available from the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks
Attn: Foreign Patent Sales
2021 Jefferson Davis Highway
Arlington, VA 20202
Phone: (703) 308‑8052