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Patents, Copyright, and Intellectual Property

Patents are a rich source of scientific and technical information. The time-consuming task of searching for patents has been streamlined by the availability of Web-based patent search and retrieval systems. Below we link to the major patent databases and search engines on the Web.

The three major free public access databases, described below in the first section, are:

  1. Espacenet Worldwide Patents database maintained by the European Patent Office that includes U.S. patents.
  2. U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's website, through which you can access the full page images of U.S. patents going back to 1790.
  3. PATENTSCOPE database maintained by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which also includes U.S. patents.

Special care should be used to determine the scope of each database.  Country coverage, starting dates, and searchable fields often vary within the same database depending on the country and the time period. 

Major Patent Databases

Espacenet Worldwide Patents: This is the single, most comprehensive, free patent database available. The European Patent Office has developed a worldwide patent database of over 80 million patents from over 80 countries, most with full-text page images, available at no charge.

The starting date varies greatly by country, with the earliest being 1836 for the United States.  The availability of any given search field also varies greatly by country and time period.  For example, only about 50% of the patents have a title field and only 33% have an English abstract. Please review the Espacenet Global Patent Data Coverage document for details. An online tutorial for searching the system is available.  We recommend you consult the International Patent Classification Manual before beginning your search.

This site permits downloading of the full-text of entire patents with a single command, including U.S. patents. To print or download the full-text, click on the patent title from any search result listing. Then click on the Original documents link on the left. Until one downloads the patent text, one can only print a single page at a time. To download the entire patent text, click on the Download link directly above and to the right of the displayed text. Do NOT use your browser's print, download, or save commands.

Espacenet has partnered with Google Translate to create Patent Translate, which provides translations (of the patent abstract, description and claims) between English and 31 other languages including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Chinese, and more. Translation from and into French and German is also available for 27 of the 31 languages. See the Patent Translate FAQ for more information.

A useful guide to the patent procedures and numbering systems used by different countries is the publicly available, 2007 edition of the Derwent Global Patent Sources: An Overview of International Patents.

USPTO Patent Databases: The United States Patent & Trademark Office offers free access to the full text of U.S. patents and patent applications through its website. Although it is a capable search system, viewing and printing patents can only be done one-page-at-a-time and requires downloading a special browser plug in.

Hence, to view and print the full-text of U.S. patents, we recommend either using a free patent fetcher (listed below) that automatically retrieves and creates a single multi-page document that can be printed or saved with a single mouse click or using the Espacenet Worldwide Patents site to search, print, and download U.S. patents. Free patent fetchers include:

  • Free Patents Online - U.S. patents back to December 16, 1974, plus European patents (EP). Includes a full-featured search system, but especially handy for retrieving a known patent number. Free registration required to get images.
  • - U.S. Patents, 1790+. Searchable by patent number only.
  • Patent Fetcher - Can fetch all patents available from the USPTO and Worldwide Patents (Espacenet) web sites.

The USPTO Issued Patents Database contains the full text of U.S. patents issued from 1790 to the present. Patents from 1790-1975 can be searched by patent number, issue date, or classification code only. Patents from 1976 to the present can be searched by keyword as well as patent number, classification code, inventor's name, assignee's (company's) name, issue and application date, etc. The USPTO Patent Applications Database contains the full text of patent applications published since March 15, 2001. We recommend that you consult the the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's Index to the U.S. Patent Classification System in conjunction with its Manual of Classification (class number order) to determine the appropriate classification codes to use in your patent searching.

Please Note: USPTO uses a compressed TIFF file format for its full-page images of patents and patent applications. This format requires special software to view the files. For more information, including links to download the required software, go to: How to Access Full-Page Images

PATENTSCOPE: This patent database maintained by WIPO covers nearly 40 million patents from 36 countries including European (EP) and World (PCT) patents. See National Collections - Data Coverage for a listing of the countries and data fields searched. A user's guide is available online.

Special features include free online translation of patent texts using Google Translate and an innovative cross-lingual search capability that automatically translates search terms into multiple languages and includes those terms in your query. PATENTSCOPE also includes excellent analysis and refining tools to narrow search results. Information from the results can be shown as tables, graphs, or pie charts.  For example, a pie chart could be produced showing the number of patents from each country.

Other Databases

  • Free Patents Online: Provides free full-text access to PDF versions of U.S. and European patents.
  • Patent Lens: Free full-text patent searching of U.S., World (WO), Australian (AU) and European (EP) patents as far back as 1976 depending on country.

National & International Patent Offices

Intellectual Property


Library Patent Collections / Depositories

Commercial Patent Services

  • Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property Solutions: Thomson provides for-fee services in patent research and analysis, trademark research and protection, and intelectual assests management.
  • QPAT-US: A subscription-based web service for patents and patent information that provides for an annual fee access to the Pluspat database, comprehensive patent family searching, detailed legal status information, unlimited PDF patent copies, and full-text searching of published applications and patents from the United States and the European Patent Office.
  • Wiki on Patent Analysis, Mapping and Visualization Tools: This wiki lists and describes various tools and techniques for patent analysis, mapping, and visualization.

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