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What are patents?

  • Patents are documents that grant protection and rights to an inventor by a national government for a particular invention in exchange for a full public description of the invention and how it works.
  • Patents are a form of intellectual property.
  • Patent applications must be filed in every country in which protection is desired.
  • Some vocabulary defined:
    • Patent: legal protection for new inventions or improvements to existing inventions.
    • Trademark: designs (i.e. words, sounds) used to differentiate one person or organization’s product or service from another.
    • Copyright: the exclusive legal right to a reproduce an artistic, literary, dramatic, or musical work.
    • Trade secret: secret information on a product to be sold (i.e. Coca-Cola recipe).

How do I find patents?

  • Each patent has a unique code that identifies it (i.e. US2015338020). Patent numbers are often listed on the product, its packaging, and/or a company website.
  • Patents can also be browsed or searched for by keyword
  • To find patents by keyword, it is important to be specific in your search string. For example, you might use "water desalination," as opposed to simply “water.”
    • If this example yields no results, consider using synonyms (i.e. "renewable energy", "sustainable energy").
  • Don't restrict the search to titles. Sometimes patents have remarkably unhelpful titles (i.e. "An Apparatus").
  • Create a list of words that describe your idea: what material or method is used, what does the invention do, and what is special about the invention? Use these words in your search.

Why use patents?

  • Find information on what has been invented before.
  • Identify key inventors from a competitor's company.
  • Identify companies in your research area that are potential buyers, competitors, or employers.
  • Identify collaborators in your research area for joint research.

Where can I search for patents?

Find global patents

Find Canadian patents

Find U.S. patents

Resources to help find sources

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