Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Need Help with your area of engineering? Try one of our Subject Guides:
Where do you find inspiration for design ideas? Patents!
These pages have some tips and tricks for searching patents -- which is a tricky exercise because:
Most patents protect a function rather than an application -- such as, an extruder rather than a device for making donuts or drinking straws.
Many large and complex products are governed by multiple patents developed over time by different inventors.
Some inventors (and their patent attorneys) deliberately use obscure language to hide their intentions until a product is released.
Many patents do not contain the product, brand, or trade name. They may be trying to hide, or they may not have devised the product name at the time of the patent application.
Some products (such as Gatorade) are not patented, often because the inventor does not want the secrets to be published.
Types of Patents
Patent websites vary in coverage. Some only have full text or images for recent years. Some have better quality images than others. In some search engines, keywords only work on recent years. If you are doing a full, deep, and serious search, be sure to identify and search on the patent classifications as well as keywords.
There are three types of U.S. 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, or any new and useful improvement thereof
2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture
3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
...and patents include definitions of terms used. Remember, though, that patents are written by attorneys and not by engineers!
(from USPTO website)
Jean L. Bossart, P.E.
Associate Engineering Librarian
Marston Science Library, L209B
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.