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Patents, 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.

Four major databases are described in Section 1. The first three are freely available on the Internet. The Derwent database can be accessed only by UB patrons.

  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.
  4. Derwent Innovations Index - part of the Web of Science suite of databases.

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. 


  1. Major Patent Databases
  2. Other Freely Available Databases
  3. Patent Classification Searching
  4. National/International Patent Offices
  5. Intellectual Property
  6. Library Collections/Depositories
  7. Commercial Patent Services (including patent analysis tools)
  8. University Services & Policies

Section 1: 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 Cooperative Patent Classification System before beginning your search. See Section 3 of this guide for more information.

This site permits downloading of the full-text of entire patents with a single command. 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, though dated, guide to the patent procedures and numbering systems used by different countries is the 2001 edition of the Derwent Global Patent Sources: An Overview of International Patents located on the first floor of the Lockwood Library Science & Engineering Reference Collection Call Number T210 .D47 2001.

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.

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 you consult the Cooperative Patent Classification System before beginning your search. See Section 3 of this guide for more information. However, one can also consult 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).

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.

Derwent Innovations Index: Although this database is more limited in the number of countries and dates covered (2008+), it has a sophisticated search system that permits very precise, yet broad, retrieval. For example, this system permits left and right hand word stemming (truncation), e.g., ‘*degrad*’ that would pick up all words with that character string embedded therein (biodegradation, photodegradable, degradations, etc.) One can also build complex searching using Boolean logic use ‘OR’ to search for many synonyms/variant terms and ‘AND’ to combine any number of concepts. As part of the Web of Science search system, Derwent Innovations Index provides in-depth indexing of patents from 40 issuing authorities for the years 2008 to the present. Nearly all scientific and technical areas are covered including chemistry, electrical technologies, electronics, engineering, and other applied technologies.

For six major patent offices (U.S., Europe, PCT, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan), patents and articles cited by a given patent can be viewed, but not searched. Using the Advanced Search feature, citing patents can be viewed and searched by number, assignee, and inventor.

The database can be used to discover the latest technological advances, monitor competitors' progress, formulate fresh ideas for research, or get an overview of inventions in the global marketplace.

Additional details can be found in our Derwent Innovations Index database description page and the producers detailed Database Help Index.

Section 2: Other Freely Available Databases

  • Google Patents - covers the entire collection of granted patents and published patent applications from the USPTO, EPO, and WIPO. US patent documents date back to 1790, EPO and WIPO to 1978.See their FAQ page for more information.
  • The Lens (formerly Patent Lens): Search patents from 15 countries with strong, innovative graphical display of results and numerous refine options including applicants, countries, inventors, cited articles and authors, and classification codes. This is a little known, but very powerful search system. 

Section 3: Patent Classification Searching

Depending on the database and the age of the patent, often there are few, if any, keyword fields (title, abstracts, indexing). For example, U.S. patent records in the USPTO database prior to 1976 can only be retrieved by issue date, patent classification codes, and patent number. Hence, to do the most comprehensive search possible, one must identify classification codes for the topic of interest. However, a searcher faces three major challenges:

  1. Classification systems are very detailed and extensively hierarchical.
  2. Given the level of detail, multiple classification codes are usually assigned to a patent, each designating a particular aspect of the invention. Hence, the full invention is often described only by a combination of codes.
  3. Historically, there were three major classification systems: U.S., ECLA (European Patent Office), and International Patent (IPC) systems.  Fortunately, a new system, the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system has recently been developed. As of early 2015, patents from at least 18 countries have been assigned CPC codes in ESPACENET.  This includes U.S. patents back to July, 1836, many European countries, China, World (PCT), and Japan. It is expected that eventually nearly all patent offices will adopt the CPC system. The ECLA system has been completely replaced by the CPC already.

 The good news is that all the classifications systems have an easily searchable/browsable free online database.

Whenever possible, it is recommended that CPC codes be searched. The CPC is much more up-to-date and detailed compared to the other two systems. Often the best strategy is to retrieve patents with a good keyword search and then examination the description of the classification codes assigned to the most relevant patents.  Finally, do a second search using some combination of the most relevant codes.  

For more information about the CPC system: CPC FAQs and CPC About Information. 

Section 4: National & International Patent Offices

Section 5: Intellectual Property

Section 6: Library Patent Collections / Depositories

Section 7: Commercial Patent Services

  • Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property Solutions: Thomson provides for-fee services in patent research and analysis, trademark research and protection, and intellectual asset 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.

Section 8: University Offices, Services, & Policies