Skip to Main Content
UVM Libraries Research Guides banner


This research guide is designed to help you get started with researching topics related to engineering.

Getting started with patents

A patent is a legal right to exclude others from the commercial exploitation of a novel, useful, and non-obvious invention. Patents are granted by a government agency (in the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office) for a limited term, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention and its workings.

General information concerning patents
The USPTO's plain-language overview of patents and the patenting process.

Patent databases

Most patent information is openly available online. Patent databases and search engines vary by breadth of contents, national or international coverage, basic interfaces and advanced search tools.

Google Patents or USPTO?

Google Patents and the USPTO's Public Patent Search have different advantages. Use both to ensure a comprehensive search strategy.

Google Patents USPTO Public Patent Search
All patent documents, except recent months All patent documents, updated weekly
USPTO and 100+ other jurisdictions USPTO patents only
Simple interface designed for quick review of matches Complex interface designed for precise searching
Searches full documents Searches full documents 1970-present; searches classifications and patent numbers 1790-1970

Searches images with Optical Character Recognition

Searches text 1970-present (more reliable); searches with OCR 1790-1970

Default order of results is relevancy

Default order of results is reverse-chronological

How to search

1. Search by classification.
The most effective way to search for patents for a specific area of technology is to identify the most relevant classes and subclasses in the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) scheme.

Recommended: run a keyword search in Google Patents, then review the statistics under "Top 1000 results by filing date" > CPCs

Other options:

(a) search by keyword in a patents database, find a relevant patents, then review its classes and subclasses. In Google Patents, look for "Classifications".

(b) use Espacenet's CPC-browser. This searches for keywords in patent documents and returns the most relevant classes/subclasses.

(c) browse the CPC scheme.


2. Search by field.
Patent fields include inventor, assignee (owner), and patent number. Field searching is most useful for finding a known patent.


3. Search by keyword.
An increasing proportion of patents are available online with full text, making keyword more effective. But keyword searches may retrieve an overwhelming number of results or may fail to reflect the technical language used in patent writing. Use keyword searching as a step to identify classes and subclasses; and to supplement classification searching.

Useful links

UVM Innovations