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Engineering Central


What is a Patent?

  • A patent gives a legal right to the patent holder to prevent other people from making, using or selling their invention for a limited period.
  • In order to be granted a patent, the patent holder must demonstrate that their invention is novel and capable of being made into a product or used as a process by industry. They must publicly disclose full details of their invention.
  • This means that patents can be an important source of information for researchers, much of which is not available in journals or conference papers.

Why Use Patents As An Information Source?

Patents can be used:

  • To study the historic development of technologies.
  • To identify work which has already been done in the field you are researching.
  • To identify experts in particular areas.
  • Note: Inventors must file patent applications according to the laws in each of the countries they want protection. Therefore, not all patents are identical for the same invention or in English.

Useful Links 

  • Google Patents: Currently indexes patents and Google Scholar.

  • World Intellectual Property Office: This agency of the United Nations provides access to a growing collection of patent information from 27 national patent offices through the PatentScope search tool.

  • US Patent and Trademark Office:Offers a variety of tools for searching US and other patents. You may need to download a TIFF viewer to view the patent images.

  • European Patent Office: Provides access to 70+ million patent documents from 80 countries through their Espacenet search tool.

  • Japan Patent Office: Japan files more patent applications than any other country.This FUMSI article provides a basic introduction to patent searching, including how you can search japanese patents even when you don't speak japanese.

Useful Databases

  • Inspec: Subject coverage includes physics, electrical/electronic engineering, computing, control engineering, IT, production, manufacturing and mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. To limit your search to patents; in the search box, select document type from the dropdown menu and then select patents from the new dropdown menu. 
  • Web of Science  To find journal articles which have cited a particular patent; in the Cited Reference Search tab enter the patent number in the Cited Work  field or enter the first listed inventor or patent assignee in the Cited Authors  field.