Skip to main content

The University Library is operating online. Have a question? Ask Us!

ME 495: Patents

What is a Patent?

Patents are government grants that give inventors exclusive rights to their inventions.

Patents are vital resources for businesses, researchers, inventors, academics, and others who need to keep abreast of developments in their fields.

Patents are also an important means of sharing know-how, because each patent document describes a new aspect of a technology in clear and specific terms and is available for anyone to consult.

Source: Canadian Intellectual Property Office

Why Search for Patents?

There are some very good reasons to search patents:

  • patents can contain a wealth of specific technical data and drawings
  • 80% of patent information is not published anywhere else!
  • patents and patent applications are usually published before journal articles

But remember...

  • all patent applications are published (even silly ones!)
  • patents are NOT peer-reviewed, they are "examined", the claims made in patents are just that
  • so the processes or procedures claimed in a patent do not necessarily have to "work" for a patent to be granted
  • the language and vocabulary used in patent documents can be obscure - therefore keyword searching for patents is not always useful (for example - this is the patent for the iPad)

Places to Search for Patents

European Patent Office (EPO) Database Espacenet

Espacenet offers free access to more than 70 million patent documents worldwide (70+ countries including Canada and the U.S.), containing information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today, updated weekly. Often considered the best place to start a patent search.

  • See this video for an introduction to searching in Espacenet

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) - Search for Patents

The USPTO houses full text for patents issued in the U.S. from 1976 to the present and TIFF images for all patents from 1790 to the present. (You can install a free TIFF reader that is designed in part for reading U.S. patent office files).

Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO)

The Canadian Patent Database lets you access over 75 years of patent descriptions and images. You can search, retrieve and study more than 2,000,000 Canadian patent documents.

World Intellectual Property Office

Japan Patent Offices

Patent Searching Tutorials

Mike White, a librarian at Queen's University, is an expert on searching patent information. He has produced some excellent tutorials and has generously allowed us to link to them below.

Patent Searching Tutorials by Mike White: