Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Patent Searches: Step-by-Step

Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Patent Searches: Step-by-Step

Article excerpt

Until recently, the ability to study and research patents was an arcane art practiced by lawyers and scholars who had to travel to a designated patent library to begin arduous research. Today, with the widespread use of the Internet and the automation of the United States Patent Office records, as well as a number of other sources, anyone can research patents. If you are willing to spend a little time learning about the patent system and the sometimes not-so-logical way patents are categorized and archived, you too will be well on your way to the fascinating world of the inventor. In this article you'll find some of the basic strategies you'll need to begin your patent searches on the Web.

Before you begin, it might be useful to have a basic review of the major types of patents encountered in researching. There are others types of patents, but listed below are the most commonly found patents and those of most interest to the historical researcher. One other important point is that there was a fire in the Patent Office in 1836, which destroyed its records and affected patent numbering, as we will discuss.

Types of Patents 0A Utility Patents. Utility patents are generally given for new or improved processes such as forging or for particular items or equipment such as a threshing machine. These patents encompass three areas: mechanical, electrical, and chemical, and were originally awarded for fourteen years. Later in 1861, the time was increased to seventeen years, and now, as of 1995, it is twenty years. The first utility patent (meaning postfire), patent no. 1, was issued on 13 July 1836 for "Traction Wheels." Design Patents. These patents are given for the aesthetic look of an invention and typically are good for fourteen years. The patents are given on the basis of the uniqueness of appearance, such as the famous Panther Head saw, D 1603.

X- Patents. This designation refers to patents originally assigned before 1836; the records were lost in the Patent Office fire. Prior to the fire and the subsequent patent act, patents had not been assigned numbers. After the fire the Patent Office solicited the old patents from the inventors or the assignors, and as best as it could, the Patent Office determined where the patents fell and assigned each its respective number. Reportedly, there were fractional patent numbers issued when there was not enough room to include all the patents that fell on that date. Often the patent record is incomplete for X-patents with only one of the pages available. A patent for a metallic body plane, X4859, for example, has the drawings but is missing the patent text; a "Missing Page Temporary Notice" is found in place of the missing pages. Reissued Patents. When there is a need to correct errors or omissions on patents that have already been issued, the Patent Office assigns a reissued patent. The reissued patent does not add time to the original patent protection period. The patent also references in the heading the patent that is being corrected. For example, RE5454, "Improvement in Bag Machines against Mr. Heard's original patent, 437-4 2." Reissued patents will appear for both utility and design patents, although a design reissue will start with RD, followed by the number. Additional Improvements. Also of note, and infrequently encountered, are the Additional Improvement patents. Designated AI, these patents were issued from 1836-1861 and allowed the original inventor to patent improvements on his patent.

Beginning Your On-line Search

Once you have arrived at the United States Patent Office (USPTO) Website index page for patent full-text and full-page image databases ( see Figure 1), your first stop should be the help page. You can click on the "help" button or go to (Figure 2). If you are a first time user, it's a good idea to spend some time reviewing some of the topics on this page. …

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