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What is a Patent?

WHAT IS A PATENT? A patent is a grant by the U.S. government to an inventor (person) of the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling his/her patented invention in the United States for a period of 20 years from the date of application (beginning June 1995) (assuming maintenance fees are paid). It can not be renewed. This right can be sold or licensed to third parties in return for fees and royalties. An invention must be new, useful and unobvious to qualify as patentable.

Major types of patents include: DESIGN, UTILITY, PLANT and REISSUE Patents.

  1. DESIGN Patents cover the ornamental appearance of an article of commerce only. Items covered by a design patent might also qualify for copyright protection in some cases.
  2. UTILITY Patents cover an article or process and are divided into mechanical, chemical or electrical groups. This is the primary type of U.S. Patent.
  3. PLANT Patents cover distinct and new varieties of botanical plants invented or discovered and asexually produced.
  4. REISSUE Patents are granted if there is a substantial error or errors in the original patent.

Why search Patents?


  • 80% of patent information is never disclosed or published elsewhere.
  • Patents contain a wealth of specific technical detail, research data, and drawings.
  • 51% (2013) of US patents granted to foreign nationals.
  • Patents and patent applications often published earlier than academic papers.
  • The USA over 8 million granted patents representing 170 years of technology.

If you are an inventor, you should be aware of relevant prior art in your technology. If you are an entrepreneur, you should monitor your competitors' new products, and where they are patented. If you are involved in applied research, you need to review new and pending patents in your discipline. More.

Patents are the first place to look. Over 80% of the information contained in recent patent literature is not published elsewhere.

Resources for Locating Information on Granted U.S. Patents

Patent Tutorials

Other Resources for Accessing U.S. Patent Information

Resources for Identifying Non-U.S. Patent Information

Obtaining Copies of Patents

Additional Information

University of Cincinnati faculty, staff, and students can get more information on the actual U.C. policies and the process of obtaining a patent on a U.C. sponsored invention from the U.C. Intellectual Property Office.

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