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Product Design : Patents

Get Patent Help!

Steenbock Library is a USPTO Patent & Trademark Resource Center. Read about our Patents & Trademark services.

For questions or to set up an appointment, email or call (608) 262-3007.

What Is a Patent?

A patent is a grant of property right by the government to an inventor preventing others from making, using, or selling a new and useful invention for a period of 20 years from application date.

The following video explains patents and the patent process.

How are patents different from trademarks and copyrights?

The following video explains the differences between the major types of intellectual property protection.

Why search patents?

Searching patents during the design process can help you:

  • Determine if your idea is novel
  • Identify areas you may need to design around to avoid infringement
  • Find inventors (technical experts) with whom to collaborate
  • Find inventions that are free to use because of expired or unissued patents
  • Monitor emerging designs in a technology area that may not be published elsewhere
  • Identify key companies in a technology area who may be interested in your design.

Patent Search Strategies

This video explains patent search strategies using


Patent Databases

Suggested Databases for Novice Patent Searchers

Google Patents Patent Search 

  • Full text for US granted patents (1976-present) and applications (2001-present), EPO granted patents (1976-present), WIPO PCT applications (1976-present); also includes searchable data for over 81 million patents and applications worldwide from 1907-present
  • Filtering, data visualization and export options
  • Includes cited scholarly works via PubMed, CrossRef, and Microsoft Academic
  • Register for free to save searches, create notes and collections, and export larger sets of search results

Google Patents

  • Full text for US granted patents (1790 to present) US applications (2001-present), and international patent documents (updated coverage available here)
  • Links to US & International Classification tools, links to other databases, and patent status information
  • Good place to start a preliminary patent search - use or Espacenet to follow up with classification searching

U.S. Patent Database


USPTO Patent Public Search 

Searches three USPTO patent databases by default: 

  • US-PGPUB includes U.S. pre-grant patent applications from March 2001 to present; searchable by any word in the full text of the application)
  • USPAT includes
    • U.S. patents from 1970-present; searchable by any word in the full text of the patent; and
    • U.S. patents from 1790-1969; searchable only by issue date, patent number, and classification
  • USOCR includes OCR scanned U.S. patents from before 1970; searchable by any word in the full text of the patent

Each document includes downloadable PDF. 

International Patent Databases

Espacenet - European Patent Office

Espacenet Patent Search 

  • European Patent Office official patent database with over 80 million patent documents from 92 countries, including U.S. and other non-European countries
  • Patent documents in the language of the issuing country; >5 million have a searchable English abstract
  • Save selected results (up to 500 per search) in "My Patent List" or export to Excel spreadsheet

WIPO PatentScope Database

  • World Intellectual Property Organization database includes International Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications in full text format on the day of publication, as well as patent documents of participating national and regional patent offices

More on Patents

For more information on intellectual property, patents, and patent searching, refer to:

Patenting for UW Researchers and Students

Campus intellectual property information and resources from the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

UW-Madison Office of Business Engagement

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)

  • Serves the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientific community
  • Patents the discoveries of UW-Madison researchers
  • Licenses technologies to leading companies in Wisconsin, the United States and worldwide

Invention Disclosure

"University policy and federal statutes REQUIRE all UW–Madison faculty, staff and students to disclose to WARF, regardless of the monies that funded the research. All Morgridge Institute researchers also must disclose to WARF." - Patenting FAQ for UW Inventors

Submit an invention disclosure report