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A Trip To The Patent & Trademark Office
By Mary Bellis

searching the patent files at the PTO public search facility
David Byrd: Inventor & Patent Searcher
Patent Search Room - Patent & Trademark Office Arlington Virginia

passcard to public search room at the PTOA Pass to the Patent Search Room

The Basics: What is The United States Patent and Trademark Office?
In summary: For over 200 years, the basic role of the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing, for limited time, to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries" (Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution). Since 1825, the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Patent and Trademark Office grants patents for the protection of inventions, registers trademarks and advises the Department of Commerce and other agencies of the Government in matters involving patents and trademarks. The Patent and Trademark Office examines applications and grants patents on inventions when applicants are entitled to them. It publishes and disseminates patent information, records assignments of patents, maintains search files of U.S. and foreign patents, and maintains a search room for public use in examining issued patents and records. It also supplies copies of patents and official records to the public. Similar functions are performed relating to trademarks.

Patents: Tell me all about patents.
In summary: A "patent" is a legal document, issued by the federal government (via the PTO), entitling its holder to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention claimed by the patent during its term without the owner's permission. Patent rights are like property rights; they can be sold or licensed to someone else. There are three basic types of patents: utility, design and plant. Plant patents are granted for newly discovered asexually reproduced plants. Design patents are granted for the novel, ornamental characteristics of a product, apart from the structural design. Most patents issued are utility patents. These are for inventions: "whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, [article of] manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new or useful improvement thereof." 35 U.S.C. Section 101.

History: A little bit of IP history... a little bit more.
In summary: Modern patents have their origins in Europe. European sovereigns commonly awarded "letters patent" to favored inventors. These letters had their seal on the outside, with the writing open "or patent" for all to see. The first U.S. patent laws were enacted by Congress in 1790 as part of the Constitution. Before then, the King of England officially owned all intellectual property created by the colonists. Thanks to the Constitution, we are all guaranteed the freedom to individually patent, copyright or trademark our "intellectual property" (the assets created out of one's intellect). George Washington signed the First United States Patent Grant on July 31, 1790 and the patent examiner was Thomas Jefferson. The first U.S. patent went to Samuel Hopkins of Pitsford, Vermont for a new method of making potash, an industrial chemical used in making soap, glass, fertilizers and gunpowder.

Continue with >> Personal reflections about visiting the Patent & Trademark Office, how to get a patent and patent searches.

all artwork ©MaryBellis

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