What are patents?
Patents are the vehicle used to protect inventions. They can be 40 plus pages long and read like a technical term paper, that fully discloses the inventions or “prior art” that came before and how the instant patent is an improvement over them. Patents are public record so that other inventors can see what’s come before and how it was done and to be able to make improvements or better invent even newer and better things. This ensures that technology keeps improving and progress keeps marching forward. The U.S. Patent System is emulated and serves as a model for many countries around the world.
Performing a patent search is one of the most important aspects of patent law. To get a patent, an invention must be “new”, or novel. Practitioners perform patent searches and then draft patent search opinions for their clients to ascertain whether or not the invention is novel enough to be able to procure a patent.
It used to be that patent searches were always performed at the Patent Office in Washington DC. Practitioners would have to go to the Patent Office or hire patent agents living in the DC area who would go by the Patent Office, spend the day searching the patents that were there in print and then report back what they found. Now the majority of patent searching can be done online. There are numerous databases where one can search for patents, but much of your patent searching can be done for free.
On the United States Patent Office Website (USPTO) you can search full-text patents by key term back to 1976 and PDF images of patents back to 1790 if you have the patent numbers and / or classification codes. The USPTO website also has links to numerous International Patent Offices where you can also do searching. Google Patents is another great free website to search patents. All of their documents are available from the USPTO, the European Patent Office (EPO ) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Treatises are very important in Intellectual Property law and finding the right one for your area will make your research much easier. IP treatises will have analysis and commentary as well as references to cases, statutes and regulations for your issue. One of the main treatises for patent law is by a patent law expert and former patent law professor named Donald Chisum . His Chisum on Patents is available both in print in the MacMillan Law Library and on Lexis. Another valuable treatise is called Moy’s Walker on Patents. It can be accessed on Westlaw or in print in the MacMillan Law Library. For patent licensing guidance, Drafting Patent Licensing Agreements by Brain Brunsvold should be consulted. You can find it either in print in the MacMillan Law Library or online on Bloomberg Law.