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Getting Started

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:

  • The easiest way to locate a patent is with its application, publication, or patent number
    • Sometimes, patent numbers can be found on products, packaging, or within documentation
  • You can search by inventor or company
    • But company names can change, and patents can be assigned to divisions or subsidiaries
    • Patents can also be licensed to other companies
    • You may need to search many different former and current company names to locate all related patents

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.

Key Resources

  • is a public patent database indexing over 100 million patent documents from over 95 different jurisdictions. Links patents to the scholarly literature as well.