Skip to Main Content
Ekstrom Library

Patent Research

What is a U.S. Patent?

A patent is a type of property right issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A patent gives the right to the patent holder to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Once a patent is issued, the patent holder must enforce the patent and their rights without aid of the USPTO.


There are three types of patents:

1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter and protects the way an article is used and works. 

2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new and original visual ornamental design for an article of manufacture and protects the way an article looks.

3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant to include algae and macro-fungi, but not bacteria. 


Adapted from the United States Patent and Trademark Office: USPTO Patents

How Can Patents Help with My Research?

Patents can provide a wealth of information on:

  • Research that hasn't been published in scholarly literature
  • Background information on the invention itself and on the field of research pertaining to the patent
  • Company research activity that isn't published in any other sources
  • How a process, machine, design, plant, or the composition of matter was developed or how it works in a highly technical level of detail

Information included about a Patent can help you find other sources to support your research:

  • Sources cited by the patent
  • Sources citing the patent
  • Related or similar patents
  • Patents within the same classifications