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Patents: Basic Information

Last Updated: Jan 29, 2024 10:19 AM

Patents are a rich source of scientific and technical information. The time-consuming task of searching for patents has been streamlined by the availability of Web-based patent search and retrieval systems. Use the Patent Databases tab above to learn about the various databases available. Use the Patent Searching Tutorials tab to learn how to effectively and efficiently search for patents.

Important Note:
If you want to conduct a comprehensive search to determine if your idea is “‘patentable”, you need to search more than just patent literature. For example, you may also want to search international patents, patent applications, scholarly articles, standards, blog posts, public presentations - any public information.

UB library staff are not able to provide any legal advice. This guide is purely for helping you learn about and search for patents. If you need legal assistance, please consult a licensed attorney. See the UB Patent Resources & Other Tools tab for more information on resources available to current students, faculty and staff.

Getting Started

What is a Patent: the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

  •     Usually, a 20 year exclusive right to the patent within the country the patent was issued.
  •     The exclusive rights to exclude others from making, selling, or importing the invention.
  •     A patent is only valid in the country it was issued.

Three Types of Patents:

  • Utility patents: granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Also known as 'patents for invention". Lasts 20 years and represents 90% of applications. 
  • Design patents: granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Only protects the appearance of an article, but not its structural or functional features. Lasts for 14 years. 
  • Plant patents: granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant. Lasts 20 years. 

What is Patentable - Criteria: 

  • Novel - unique and new, never made public, before the date of the filed application
  • Useful - identifiable benefit 
  • Non-obvious - to someone working within that field 


Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office (2014 Oct). General information concerning patents. Retrieved from

Selected Books Related to Patents

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Maintenance Time and the Industry Development of Patents cover art
One Hundred Patents That Shaped the Modern World cover art

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