Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (IP) Law includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets.

Definition of a Patent

A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the United States government to an inventor or owner “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. 

  • U.S. Constitution: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8:

    [The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Why look at Patents?

There are numerous compelling reasons to conduct a patent search, and discovering exclusive technical information stands out as particularly beneficial.

Around 70-90% of technical knowledge is exclusively documented in patents. This enables students to study how different approaches have addressed specific design challenges and delve into the latest advancements in technology (state-of-the-art).

Additional reasons to do a patent search.
Why search for patents? MIT Libraries (5-minute video)


  • Most patents are written in legal and highly technical language
  • The claims are written by lawyers for lawyers
    • The claims are the most important part of the patent as far a providing the legal protection if challenged in court
  • The Abstract, Summary, Background sections are more straightforward
  • Product names are often created after a patent is written (sometimes by the marketing department rather than the inventor e.g. Post-it Note)
  • Keyword searching is not sufficient when doing a comprehensive patent prior art search
How to read a patent - University of Michigan

Searching by Classification

Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC)

 In 2015 the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) replaced the United States Patent Classification (USPC) system.

Recommended Tutorials

Recommended Tools

  • Google Patents - is a good place to start (Note: Google Patents doesn't provide complete coverage compared to the USPTO or Espacenet)
  • Espacenet - The European Patent Office; provides access to more than 100 million patents including more than 10 million U.S. patents

If you have questions please don't hesitate to contact me!