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Patents: About Patents

Searching for patent documents


The information and resources presented on this library guide are intended to support academic purposes of patent searching, such as identifying the "state-of-the-art" of technologies or conducting historical research regarding inventions.  None of the information provided should be considered as legal advice or an interpretation of the law.

For questions or guidance regarding legal matters involving intellectual property, including patentability / novelty, freedom to operate / infringement, or validity / enforcement readiness, contact the Wyoming Technology Transfer and Research Products Center.  Faculty, staff, and students of the University of Wyoming are governed by UW Regulation 9-1 on Patents and Copyrights, which specifies that inventions and works created through the use of University resources are the property of the University.

What is a Patent?

Most patents give exclusive rights, for at least 20 years from the date of application, to the owner of an invention or new process to make, use, or sell it.  The right extends throughout the country or countries in which the patent was issued.

A patent document has three main sections: 1) a cover page with bibliographic information; 2) a specification, which describes the invention, and 3) claims, which define the extent of the patentee's rights.

The United States recognizes three types of patents: 1) utility, 2) design, and 3) plant.

Utility patents are the most common type and include processes, machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, and new improvements of the aforementioned.

Design patents include new and original ornamental designs for articles of manufacture (i.e., the appearance of an item).  Design patents are protected for 14 years from the date of issue.

Plant patents are for distinct and new varieties of asexually-reproduced plants.

Why Search Patent Literature?

There are many reasons to search patent literature to support academic purposes (apart from legal matters):

  • Learn what inventions have been described, i.e., the state-of-the-art, in a particular area of technology. (Note: Patent applications often describe the most cutting-edge technology research.)
  • Trace the historical evolution of technologies and inventions.
  • Find citations to citing and cited references; contribute to literature review.
  • Learn how equipment or processes work, based upon invention descriptions and diagrams.
  • Avoid duplicating research efforts for previously described inventions.
  • Identify gaps in technology development as potential areas for research and development activities.
  • Identify experts / inventors in a particular field of technology.
  • Find information on technologies and inventions not available elsewhere, including in scholarly publications.  (Note: The vast majority of technical information conveyed in patent documents is not published elsewhere.)

Instructional Video - By Judy Pasek

What Do Patent Documents Look Like?

Patent Numbers

Patent numbers consist of a 2-letter Country Code, a publication or serial number, and a publication Kind Code.

What Do I Need to Know About Patent Documents?

  • Patent documents are not peer reviewed, and therefore, ideas for patents may not be proven to work, and may not have been tested experimentally.
  • Patent documents do not include product names or trademarks.  Patent titles are often vague as to what is being described.  This makes findability by keyword searching difficult, at best.
  • Patent documents may describe components, and commercial products can be made up of several patents.
  • Patents can be sold to new owners; however, documentation of change of ownership is not required or reflected in patent documents.
  • Most countries have their own patent offices and laws.  Most maintain their own patent databases, resulting in a plethora of potential sources of invention information.  A patent is only enforceable in the country in which it was filed and approved. 
  • Multi-country patent applications are facilitated by the 1978 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), managed by the United Nations, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Published patent applications filed through the PCT have a number prefix of WO.  As patents are issued by individual countries, a country prefix is designated, creating patent families of related documents for a given invention.
  • Patent applications are generally published 18 months after being filed. 
  • Application and issued patent numbers for a given invention may differ or have a suffix added when approved. 

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Library Book: "Patent Searching Made Easy"

Additional Online Patent Information

Patent Articles