While the Library reference service staff is happy to provide assistance with your search, we cannot perform searches, evaluate searches, assist with your application or dispense legal advice.
The University of Washington and its employees are providing a service of an informational nature with no express or implied warranty for results and assume no obligation or liability for damage arising out of the use, or inability to use, the information provided. Every effort is made to keep this information up to date. However, errors and omissions may occur.
For the most up-to-date information or legal advice, please contact a patent or trademark attorney.
What is a patent and what is patentable?
A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, using, and selling the patented invention. To be patentable an invention must meet three criteria.
Patent searching is a time consuming enterprise.
You cannot simply see if something has been patented. You have to make sure the item has not been patented. Hence, it is a process of elimination. This means that you must examine each patent in your subject area to determine if there is prior claim to your ideas.
You must search as far back in time as your invention has been technologically possible.
Anything that has previously been patented cannot be re-patented, even though that patent may have expired. Once a patent expires, the invention becomes part of the public domain, meaning that anyone may be able to use or manufacture the invention listed within.
Patent searching is a step by step process. Here is a general overview of the steps:
There are no shortcuts to doing a complete patent search.
Although there is a keyword searching feature in the USPTO database, keyword searching is generally not the most thorough way to conduct a patent search. There is no controlled terminology or vocabulary; patentees can use a wide variety of words to express their ideas. This is the reason a classification system is in use. It groups all of the patents in a specific subject area together for the purposes of examination.
Just because you have not seen a product on the market does not mean that there is not a patent on that item. Obtaining a patent and marketing an invention are two completely different tasks. There are countless products that have been patented but have never been commercially marketed, either nationwide or locally.
If you have an invention, you should plan to do a patent search for three main reasons:
The process of patent searching is not overly difficult, but it does require significant amounts of time, concentration, and patience. Budget enough time to complete your tasks and take good notes along the way. If you are visiting the UW Engineering Library to begin your search, be aware that the library, computers, and/or reference staff might be busy on the day that you choose to visit or contact the library. Be sure to check on reference/patent and trademark research assistance hours before visiting. You may wish to call the library prior to your visit for a brief overview of hours and services. While reference librarians provide assistance with your search or provide general information, they cannot perform searches, evaluate searches, assist with applications, or dispense legal advice.
A step-by-step guide for searching patents by subject or by kind of invention. The steps shown here are typical, but some may not apply to your search. The Seven Step Strategy outlines a suggested procedure for patent searching.
You may want to print out a copy of the Seven Step Strategy guide to keep with your notes and for later reference.
More information from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
The USPTO is the Federal agency responsible for issuing U.S. patents. The USPTO website provides access to information about the patent process, including patent searching and the patent application process: