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This guide helps students and professors find patent information.

How to Read a Patent

Patents are the form of intellectual property registration specifically meant for inventions, including plants and designs, to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention in the U.S.

American patents are filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are three types of patents:

Utility - the most common, meant for "process, machine, article of manufacture, compositions of matter, or any new useful improvement thereof" (USPTO Patent FAQ). Duration of a patent for applications marked June 8, 1995 and after, begins on the date of the grant and ends 20 years from date of application, as long as maintenance fees have been paid.

Design - to register "a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture" (USPTO Patent FAQ). Duration is 14 years from the date the patent was granted, no maintenance fees required. Design patent numbers start with a D.

Plant - to register the creation of new "asexually reproduced plant varieties" (USPTO Patent FAQ). Duration of a patent for applications marked June 8, 1995 and after, begins on the date of the grant and ends 20 years from date of application. No maintenance fees required. Plant patent numbers start with a P.


To file a patent with the USPTO, visit the USPTO's Patents site.

A useful tutorial on how to read a patent: "Patents and Patentability" (created by the UMN Libraries).


Patent: Wildman, J.R. (1981, December 29). U.S. Patent No. D262,473. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Patent Search Tools

Patent applications are filed to the government body responsible for intellectual property in each country. The main bodies include the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the European Patent Office (EPO), the Canadian Intellectual Property Organization (CIPO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO), and others. To find patents and patent applications, a good first step is the government body responsible, but these databases can be tricky to use, so there are also a number of free services that aim to make patent searching a bit easier, as well as Scopus, one of the Library's subscription databases.

Patent Application Alerts - You can now sign up to get an alert every time a patent application on a topic of relevance to you is published, a new service from the USPTO.

International patent office search engines:

Free domestic or international patent search engines:

Database with patent search (note: off-campus users will be asked to log in with their myStevens username and password):

Local NY/NJ patent collections

The federal government designates several libraries around the country as Depository Libraries, meaning they receive copies of all or most government publications (such as patents) to make these documents available to everyone. We live near two of them - the Newark Public Library and the New York Public Library. Both of these libraries are open to the public, meaning you can use certain resources without a library card. We recommend checking their web sites for hours of availability and directions.

  • Newark Public Library
    The Newark Public Library is one of two designated Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries in New Jersey (the other is Rutgers Library of Science and Medicine-Piscataway).

    Holdings include:

    • U.S. Patents/Utility -- Available on microfilm from 1790 to the present.
    • U.S. Patents/Design -- Available on microfilm from 1939.
    • Official Gazette -- This weekly publication contains the abstracted version of new utility and design patents. On microfilm from 1872. In paper from 1931.
  • New York Public Library: Science, Industry and Business
    Also a Patent & Trademark Depository Library, SIBL holds the entire collection of US Patents on microfilm as well as a Foreign and International Patents Collection.

    Holdings include:

    • U.S. Patents/Utility ‚ Available on microfilm from 1790 to the present. On CD-ROM from 1994 to the present.
    • U.S. Patents/Design ‚ Available on microfilm from 1842 to the present.
    • Foreign & International Patents:
      • Denmark. 1895-present
      • European Patent Office. A1/A2 1978-present, A3 1988-present, B1/B2 1981-present
      • France. 1899-1970, 1982-present
      • Germany. Patent #s 1-977,889 and 1957- present
      • Japan. 1910-1941, 1950-1973, 1982-present
      • Sweden. 1885-present
      • Switzerland. 1984-present
      • United Kingdom (Great Britain). 1673-present
      • USSR (Russia). 1987-1992
    • World Intellectual Property Organization (i.e., World or PCT Patents). 1981-present

How to Cite a Patent

IEEE (from IEEE Editorial Style Manual):

J. K. Author, “Title of patent,” U.S. Patent x xxx xxx, Abbrev. Month, day, year.

J. P. Wilkinson, “Nonlinear resonant circuit devices,” U.S. Patent 3 624 125, July 16, 1990.

Note: Use “issued date” if several dates are given.

APA 7 (from Scribbr)

Inventor Last Name, Initials. (Year Of Patent Issue). Patent Identifier No.. State, city: Patent Office Name.

Bell, A. G. (1876). U.S. Patent No. 174,465. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

ACS (from The ACS Style Guide, Ch. 14: References)

Patent Owner 1; Patent Owner 2; etc. Title of Patent. Patent Number, Date.

Sheem, S. K. Low-Cost Fiber Optic Pressure Sensor. U.S. Patent 6,738,537, May 18, 2004.