Patents and Trademarks : Overview
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.
Watch library videos on patents:
- Part 1 (What are patents? What can be patented?)
- Part 2 (What are the elements of a patent? What can you learn from patents?)
How are patents different from trademarks and copyrights?
- Copyright is the exclusive right to ‘"original works of authorship", including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations.’
- A trademark is “[a] word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
In addition to protecting different types of intellectual property, patents, copyright, and trademarks are protected for different lengths of time and are registered with separate agencies (in the United States, copyrights are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, patents and trademarks are registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office; trademarks can also be protected on the state level).
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- Monitor emerging designs in a technology area that may not be published elsewhere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.
The most comprehensive source for U.S. patent and trademark information is the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: