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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 Patent Public Search
  • 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 terms to describe your invention based on its purpose, composition and use.

2. Use these terms to find initial relevant Cooperative Patent Classifications using the USPTO website’s Classification Text Search Tool ( .  Enter the keyword or keywords you wish to search in the Search Tool box.  For example, if you were trying to find CPC Classifications for patents related to umbrellas, you would enter "umbrella". The default search system is CPC, Cooperative Patent Classification, so the button “All CPC” is selected.  Click on the “Search” button. Scan the resulting classification's Class Schemes (class schedules) to determine the most relevant classification to your invention. If you get zero results in your Classification Text search, consider substituting the word(s) you are using to describe your invention with synonyms, such as the alternative terms you came up with in Step 1.

3. Verify the relevancy of CPC classification you found by reviewing the CPC Classification Definition linked to it (if there is one).

4. Access Patent Public Search database from the USPTO home page ( Under the “Find It Fast” section, click the “Patents” tab which opens a list of frequently used patent resources. Select “Patent Public Search” near the top of the page to open the Patent Public Search database ( Once open, enter search terms identified in Step 1. Review and narrow down the most relevant patent documents and tag select documents for later review.

5. Using this selected set of most relevant patent publications, review each one in-depth for similarity to your own invention, paying close attention to the additional drawings pages, the specification and especially the claims. References cited by the applicant and/or patent examiner may lead you to additional relevant patents.

6.  Broaden your search to find additional U.S. patent documents using keyword searching in the Patent Public Search database, classification searching of non-U.S. patents on the European Patent Office's Worldwide Espacenet patent database ( and searching non-patent literature disclosures of inventions using the free electronic and print resources of your nearest Patent and Trademark Resource Center (

The Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program also provides a CBT (computer-based training) tutorial with a detailed review of the Seven Step Strategy. The current CBT covers searching using Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC).

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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