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Guide to Government Information

Federal Government Documents Tutorial

Patents and Trademarks

The D.H. Hill Library maintains a depository collection of patent and trademark resources under an agreement with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).  A patent provides inventors exclusive rights to manufacture their invention for a certain length of time in exchange for full disclosure of the invention's particulars.  The registration of a trademark with the PTO provides similar protection against the use of your trademark by someone else.

The patent and trademark resources available here allow a user to determine whether an idea has already been patented, or if a proposed trademark has already been registered with the PTO.  The library contains copies of more than 6 million patents issued between 1790 and 1999 in microfilm.  Patents issued after 1999 are available at the PTO web site and on CD-Roms held by the library.

Two titles containing abstracts of patents and trademarks are filed in the Documents stacks.  These are the Official Gazette: Patents (1872 - Sept. 2002) with an abstract and one diagram from each patent, and the Official Gazette: Trademarks with diagrams of trademarks (1971 - June 2004).  Earlier trademarks, back to 1892, can be seen using the Official Gazette.

Persons may now perform patent and trademark searches from the PTO's website.  There are two different files one should search - the file for registered patents, and the file for patent applications.

The "Quick Search" feature is usually adequate. For patents, you may search by keyword only as far back as 1976.  To perform searches in the older portion of the database, you must use patent classification numbers that are found on individual patents and in the Manual of Classification.

There are two steps you need to take to see if a patent exists on a particular topic.  Begin by asking for help at the Reference Desk.

First you should identify one or more classification numbers using the Manual of Classification.  The classification of a patent, which consists of one or more "classes" and "subclasses," represents the subject matter(s) of the patent.

The set of classification numbers you identify from the Manual of Classification are the only search terms you can use to locate patents issued prior to 1976.  There are times when these class/subclass numbers are not easily identified.  In those instances, you can fall back on a keyword search and subsequently find relevant class/subclasses from the patents that your keyword search has returned.

Class/subclass searches are much more precise than keyword searches.

A query of the PTO's database will return a set of patents that are assigned the class/subclass (or keyword) you have identified to be of interest.  Your next step is to examine these references to see how closely they match your idea.

You should be able to navigate to the full-text of patents and trademarks on the PTO site.  To view page images of patent and trademark documents your computer must have a tiff reader.  Alternative sources of patent and trademark diagrams in the D.H. Hill Library are the Official Gazettes and the patent microfilm.

A trademark search is more straight-forward.  On the PTO homepage, click on Trademarks: Search, and enter into the TESS Trademark search window the words you want to use for your business or service mark.  The computer will display trademarks that have been registered using the words you entered.  If you are using the Official Gazette to locate a drawing of a trademark, the date that a trademark was "published for opposition" is the key date that allows you to locate it.

You will find more introductory information about patents and trademarks at The NCSU Libraries on the NCSU PTDL pages.

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