Patents are legal documents that protect intellectual property rights.
Inventors and researchers obtain patents on new product and process ideas, effectively preventing other inventors and manufacturers from using the same idea. It also prevents unnecessary research and the 'reinvention of the wheel'.
A patent must be accepted as a novel idea and it must be of practical use.
A patent is often the first publication of an idea. It must contain sufficient detail about the product or process, and as a result can be quite informative.
Facts and natural phenomena cannot be patented. Concepts cannot be patented. A scientist cannot patent a naturally occurring gene. However, the way the scientist identifies or makes use of the information contained within the gene may be patented. For example, genetically modified crops are patented.
A patent is processed by the patent office. This process may take some time from the initial application for the patent to the final granted stage:
As a patent is a legal document, its protection only applies in the country from which it is issued. It gives the inventor exclusive rights to the application of the idea (and hence, any profits made from the idea). Applications may be made for patent rights in additional countries within the first 12 months of being granted a patent.
The following brief tutorials produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries provide more help in finding relevant patents and learning how to read them.
Google provides a sophisticated patent search option.
Google Patents Search allows users to search for patents in the usual Google one line search box.
The Advanced Search option allows you to search by patent names, numbers, or inventors, and also limit to application or issue dates.