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Patents: A How-To-Find Guide

Information on locating full-text of patents granted worldwide.

Example Patent Image

Technical drawing from US 2,292,387

Patents contain both text and images. The above image is a technical drawing from a patent granted to Hedy Markey (better known as Hedy Lamarr) in 1942 for a "Secret Communication System" - US Pat. 2,292,387. This invention was key to the development of many modern technologies. View full patent here.


What are patents?

In the U.S., a patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. The right conferred by the patent grant is “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.

Why search patents?

Much patent information is never disclosed or published elsewhere. Patents contain a wealth of specific technical detail, research data, and drawings. Patents and patent applications often contain information on new advances long before that information is published in a journal article. 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.

Recent U.S. patent law changes

The America Invents Act (Patent Reform Act) went into effect on 16 March 2013. It switched the U.S. patent system from “first to invent” to “first to file” and is the most significant change to the system in nearly 60 years. The act has wide ramifications concerning the kinds of innovations that are patentable, who owns inventions, who can use inventions, and how patents are challenged and defended.


If you have any questions about the patent application process, the USPTO strongly recommends that you consult with a registered patent attorney or agent.

In Iowa, the best place to find additional information and get help is the Davenport Public Library, which houses the only Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) in the state. For more information, see their website or contact the Davenport Public Library Reference Desk at 563-326-7845 or via e-mail.

ISU librarians can help you:

  • Understand what patents are and how they are structured
  • Learn basic patent searching skills using free search tools
  • Find a known patent (e.g., you know the patent number or inventor's name)

ISU librarians cannot:

  • Do a patent (prior art) search for you
  • Determine if your idea is patentable
  • Provide legal services or advice
  • Help you file a patent application
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Heather Lewin
150 Parks Library
(515) 294.1004