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This information is, in part, reprinted from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. To access this directly on the PTO site, click here.


Not every invention is patentable. You may obtain a utility patent for a new, nonobvious and useful:

In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for:

What cannot be patented:

To obtain a patent, you will need to demonstrate that your invention is:

You will also need to describe the best mode of practicing your invention.

How do I know if my invention is patentable?

First, look to see whether your invention qualifies.

Second, learn the basics of the patenting process from the materials provided by the PTO at 800-PTO-9199 or 703-308-HELP or under "General Information."

Next, a search of all previous public disclosures (prior art) including, but not limited to previously patented inventions in the U.S. (prior art) should be conducted to determine if your invention has been publicly disclosed and thus is not patentable. A search of foreign patents and printed publications should also be conducted. While a search of the prior art before the filing of an application is not required, it is advisable to do so. A registered attorney or agent is often a useful resource for performance of a patentability search. After an application is filed, the PTO will conduct a search as part of the official examination process. Conducting a thorough patent search is difficult, particularly for the novice. Patent searching is a learned skill. The best advice for the novice is to contact the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) and seek out search experts to help in setting up a search strategy. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, the PTO provides public access to collections of patents, trademarks, and other documents at its Search Facilities located in Arlington, Virginia. These facilities are open weekdays (except holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. For further information on search services offered at the PTO, please refer to Public Search Services offered by the PTO.

[Note from ES: A prior art search is not always recommended and not necessarily in your interest. Consult with your patent attorney before conducting or authorizing a prior art search. You may already be aware of prior art, even without a formal search. Keep a copy of each prior art reference, or at least a summary list, and furnish it to your patent attorney.]


We have provided links to the site below because it has information that may be of interest to our users. The PTO does not necessarily endorse the views expressed or the facts presented on this site. Further, the PTO does not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available on this site.

It is possible, however difficult, for you to conduct your own search. For an introduction to patent searching for the novice please refer to the Patent and Trademark Depository at the Richard W. McKinney Engineering Library, the University of Texas at Austin. Although some of the instructions given here may be unique to the Austin library and the focus of this introduction is on the Cassis CD-ROM products, the fundamentals of patent searching remain the same for any location.

You should not assume that your invention has not been patented even if you find no evidence of it being publicly disclosed. It's important to remember that a thorough examination at the PTO may uncover U.S. and foreign patents as well as non-patent literature.

Are there automated systems at PTDLs for searching patents?

On-line retrieval of current patent information is available to the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) via the PTO's Automated Patent System (APS).

List of PTDLs that have the capability to perform on-line text searching. Note: Some of these sites also have the APS image retrieval (CSIR) capability.

Patent Text Search

The file of US patents (USPAT) contains the full text of most U.S. patents issued since 1971 and is updated weekly.

The JPO file contains the text of English language abstracts of unexamined Japanese patent applications published from February 1980 to the present.

The EPO file provides an English language text-searchable collection of the abstracts of published patent documents from the European Patent Office (EPO), selected EPO member states, the PTO, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

These files are the same direct access files that are available to PTO examiners and to the public at the PTO's search facilities in Arlington, Virginia.

Patent Image Retrieval

The Classified Search and Image Retrieval (CSIR) enables rapid retrieval and browsing of the patent document images for any of the over 6 million patents issued since 1790, based on patent numbers or U.S. patent classifications by technology.

The PTDL libraries which are in partnership with the PTO, like the PTO examiners and search facility patrons in Arlington, Virginia, have the capability to do on-line text searching as well as image retrieval.

CD-ROM Products.

The PTO develops and provides a number of CD-ROM products containing U.S. patent and trademark information to its Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs). PTDLs, as well as the PTO's search facilities in Arlington Virginia, offer free access to the CD-ROM products but may charge for printing.

Are there places on the Web I can go for search help?

Use the PTO Web site for a start PTO Web Patent Databases cover U.S. patents issued from January 1, 1976, to the most recent weekly issue date. You can search either the U.S. Patent Bibliographic Database or the U.S. Patent Full-text Database, and can display the full document images from the Full-text Database.

The PTO Web site also has links to the Web sites of other intellectual property offices which offer their own searchable databases.

PTO Patent Databases Page

Use the help screen accessed from the Databases Page to learn how to use the different search approaches.




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