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Patents & Trademarks

patent information for researcher and entrepreneurs, including free and PSU-only sources

What is a patent?

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 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 or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Under certain circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.

The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent 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, 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; and
3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Parts of a patent

The vocabulary of patents and trademarks is unique. 

image of a patent with highlighted numbers


The following terminology will help you understand the parts of a patent and elements of a preliminary patent search. 

1. Abstract - A concise statement of the technical disclosure including that which is considered new or unique in the invention.

2. Drawing (patent) - Patent drawings must show every feature of the invention as specified in the claims.

11. Patent number - Unique number assigned to a patent application when it issues as a patent. See patent numbering formats for an explanation of the codes that appear in a patent number

21. Application number - The unique number assigned to a patent application when it is filed. The application number includes a two digit series code and a six digit serial number.

22. Filing date - The date of receipt in the Office of an application which includes (1) a specification containing a description and, if the application is a nonprovisional application, at least one claim, and (2) any required drawings.

Classifications - Patents are classified (organized) using a system to describe similar groupings of patent art. A single invention may be described by multiple classification codes.

  • 52. USPC is the 3 digit class and a 3 digit subclass system used by the United States beginning in 1790 and ending with 2015.
  • 51. CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification) was created by the USPTO and the European Patent Office and has been used since 2013.

56. Prior Art - aka "References Cited" on patent. In most systems of patent law, consists of all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent's claims of originality.

72. Inventor(s) - One who contributes to the conception of an invention. Even if something is invented as a work-for-hire by an employee of a company or university (i.e., the assignee), the inventor will ALWAYS be the name of the individual(s) who invented it.

73. Assignee - The entity that is the recipient of a transfer of a patent application, patent, trademark application or trademark registration from its owner of record (assignor).

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Specification - A written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using the same.

Claims - Define the aspects of the invention that are legally enforceable. The specification must conclude with a claim particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention or discovery.