Skip to Main Content
The database server will be in periods of maintenance from December 17-January 2.  Databases may be periodically unavailable during this time.

Engineering Research Guide

Use this guide to find UNO library resources and other helpful research tools.

Why search patent literature?

Why search the patent literature?

  • Identify new research fronts and/or licensing opportunities
  • Avoid duplication of research efforts
  • To learn how something works (diagrams, detailed description)
  • To find information on a company’s activities, or identify experts in a field
  • Gain protection for an idea or invention
  • It is estimated that 85-90% of technical information disclosed in patents appear no place else

Challenges of patent literature

  • Patents don't describe inventions as they appear in the market.  Patents may cover broader concepts and they don't specify the final packaging, detailing, manufacturing processes, trademarked names, and other aspects of products.
  • Patents don't include product names.  Searching patents by names of products, whether Formica or Blackberry mobile devices, rarely provides a direct path to the invention in question.  Final product names are often determined long after patents are filed (trademarks rather than patents protect product names).  In addition, the final product may be an amalgamation of several patents.   So searching patents for, say, Apple's popular iPad requires knowing that the relevant patent was titled “Proximity detector in hand-held device" and never once uses the term iPad.
  • Patents aren't easy to read.  Patents are legal documents and usually written by attorneys for analysis by patent examiners.  They lack the directness of specifications, technical standards, or other types of descriptive documents.  They often employ a specific legalistic vocabulary.
  • Patents aren't a true form of scientific literature.  While patent applications are subject to examination by patent examiners, they are not subject to peer review and are not required to demonstrate proof of success through experiments and processes usually associated with scientific research.

What is a patent?

  • A monopoly for about 20 years in the country in which the patent is issued.
  • It gives the patent owner exclusive rights to exclude others from making or selling the invention.
  • U.S. Patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. USPTO handles over 300,000 patent applications per year. Most countries have their own intellectual property office.
  • A patent held in the U.S. only means that your rights in the U.S. are protected. Inventors must file patents in several places to get comprehensive coverage. This means that there are many, many places to find patent literature.
  • More than 7 million US patents have been awarded since 1790.
  • There are 3 types of patents: Utility (91%), Design (9%), Plant (0.5%).

What is patentable? Inventions have to meet three main criteria:

  • Novel (unique and new, never made public in any way, anywhere, before the date of the filed application)
  • Useful
  • Non-obvious to someone skilled in the art (Note: to be patented, full disclosure of the technology must be provided.)

Patent applications

  • Patent applications are released to the public 18 months after the initial application. In the USPTO website patent applications are found in a separate database.
  • Term “prior art” – patent term meaning – Is there proof that the idea exists in the public domain somewhere? 
  • If idea or invention has been disclosed anywhere (in the world) – not just in patents – it can invalidate your idea or invention. Prior art can be found in the literature of the field – dissertations, juried journal articles, trade journals, proceedings from meetings, government reports (anything in the public domain). 
  • Not everything is patented – technology for the public good – HTML, the web, OR company or trade secrets, Silly Putty, Coca Cola

Borrowed from MITLibraries July 2014

Patent and Trademark Information

  • European Patent Office
    A collection open to the world. Pre-1976 US Patents do not require a TIFF image viewer plug-in. (Includes US patents!)
  • Patent Full-Text and Full-Page Image Databases
    US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patents prior to 1976 require a TIFF image viewer plug-in.
  • LexisNexis Academic
    Click on US Legal and drop down to Patents on the left for patent search options.
  • Google Patents
    Ability to search more than 8 million patents, although searchability is sometimes imperfect.
  • FreePatentsOnline
    The FreePatentsOnline search engine is one of the most powerful, fastest, and easiest patent search engines on the web.
  • Japan Patent Office
    Official site of the Japanese Patent Office.
  • Japanese, Chinese or Korean Patent Help
    This virtual help desk provides answers to the most frequently asked questions on patents and patent information in China, India, Japan, and Korea. You can also find background information on filing trends and granting procedures and some guidance on common patent terminology of Asian patents.