A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor to prevent others from making, using, selling or importing an invention, for a limited amount of time. Rights granted by a patent office are specific to a geographical area.
The invention can be a product (a towel), a composition (a chemical substance used in fabrics for a towel), an apparatus (a machine for making towels), a process (a method of making towels), or an improvement of any of these.
Most patent offices provide access to patent documents via freely available databases. Patents contain descriptive and useful technical information (including drawings or diagrams) that may not be found elsewhere. They also cite references that can serve as additional sources of information. Patents assist in both design and academic research.
There are a number of ways to locate patents and their related documents:
Most patented products are known by a brand name or trademark. However, patent applications are generally filed before the name of the product is determined. A patent could be used in multiple products with different names. The patent document’s title could have little or no relation to the product’s name.
For more information about patents, check out this Patents and Design guide from Queen’s University Library.