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Copyright/Creative Commons, Trademarks, and Patents: Patents

This guide provides an overview of intellectual property and ways to search for patents and trademarks.

Patent and Trademark Resources at the BPL

PTRC logo

The Boston Public Library is a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. The Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center staff can help answer your patent and trademark questions.

Staff can assist with the following:

  • Provide access to resources such as PubEAST and PubWEST, examiner-based search systems (appointment is required)
  • Direct you to information and explain the application process and fee schedule
  • Demonstrate how to use search tools to conduct a patent or trademark search
  • Show you a directory of local patent attorneys who are licensed to practice before the USPTO
  • Offer assistance on how to do historical research patents and trademarks

Staff can provide instruction in how to do search for patents and trademarks, but does not perform actual searches for patrons.

Contact us at or call us at 617.536.5400. The Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center is located in the Lower Level of the Boylston Street Building.



Quick Links

  • PatentScope (from WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization): The PatentScope database provides access to international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications in full text format on the day of publication, as well as to patent documents of participating national and regional patent offices. The information may be searched by entering keywords, names of applicants, international patent classification and many other search criteria in multiple languages.

Patent Resources at the Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library, as others like it, has transitioned from being a "Patent and Trademark Depository Library" to being a "Patent and Trademark Resource Center."  Many of the items associated with the depository aspect of the program are now available online.  Staff can provide instruction in how to do patent searches, but we do not do searching for the public.

Patent and Trademark Resource Centers to have access to the USPTO's PUBWest and PUBEast databases.  You can reserve time on the Patent computer for 3 hours per day.


Patent Basics

A patent is an exclusive right to the use of an invention or innovation. One may develop the patent themselves or sell or license the patent to others.  In general, the holder of a patent has the right to the patent for 20 years from the filing of the patent application. One may obtain a patent that would be an improvement on another's patented idea. However, they would not have the rights to creating the original idea, nor would the holder of the idea improved upon be able to use the improvement without the permission of the inventor of the improvement.

There are three kinds of patents:

  1. Utility Patents - a process, machine, means of manufacture, composition of matter, or improvements thereon.  These are the most common patents.
  2. Design Patents - an ornamental design for a manuractured item.  In short, the parts of a computer that causes it to work would have utility patents, while the housing for the patent could have design patents.
  3. Plant Patents - granted to someone who invents, discovers, or asexually reproduces a strain of plant.

In order to patent an invention or innovation, three criteria must be met. An invention must be:

  • Useful - no Rube Goldberg machines allowed
  • Novel - one may not patent something already invented
  • Non-obvious

The Seven Step Patent Search Strategy

  1. Brainstorm keywords related to the purpose, use, and composition of the invention.
  2. Find the CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification) number using the search box at
  3. Verify the relevancy of the class/subclasses by looking at the Classification Schedule.
  4. Search for patents at
  5. Review the patent claims, specifications, and drawings for relevancy.
  6. Search the published applications at
  7. Conduct a search by CPC classification at the European Patent Office’s Espacenet website to expand your search to additional relevant CPC classes.

Sometimes step 2 could be a dead end, with results that don't quite get you to the CPC number you need. In a case like that, you might want to jump to step 7 and check out the classification searches at Espacenet. The class number would be the same for the USPTO databases, so you would have the right number to work with. Another option is to track down the USPC (the USPTO's older classification system) by searching for "USPC" in the USPTO's webpage. The old index links to the old classification pages and allows for direct searches of the databases by the USPC. A huge caveat is that no patents have been indexed using the old system since January 2015. However, all the US patents have been reclassified using the CPC system, so you might be able to track down a number that way.

Historical, Regional and Specialized Patent and Trademark Research

This page compiled by the Patent and Trademark Resource Center Association lists historical, regional and specialized and regional patent and trademark resources.

Inventor Resources

A Patent and Trademark Resource Center largely concentrates on searching as part of the application process. The BPL's Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center has business resources that might be of assistance to you. Other resources that might be of help to inventors include:

Inventors Eye

Inventors Eye is the USPTO’s newsletter for the independent inventor community published since 2010. Browse through our archive to find stories about innovation, profiles of inventors, and tips and advice on USPTO services.   

You can also sign up to receive an email (link is external) when the newest Inventors Eye issue is available.

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