Finding Patents

This guide will help you understand what patents are, how they are used and how to find them.

What are patents?

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.

How are patents evaluated?

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:

  • The application is submitted.
  • After a period of 18 months, the application is published (Open to Public Inspection).
  • If the application raises no public objections, 3 months after the inventor may apply to have the patent examined.
  • Final acceptance of the patent application may take a further 8 months, depending on whether or not the patent examiner requires revisions be made.

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.

Finding and understanding patents

The following brief tutorials produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries provide more help in finding relevant patents and learning how to read them.

Patent Searching opens in a new window

Patents and Patentability opens in a new window

Australian patents, trademarks and designs agencies

International patents, trademarks and designs agencies

Google's patent search

Google provides a sophisticated patent search option.

Google Patents Search opens in a new window 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.