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Library of Engineering & Science
Intellectual Property Glossary
Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and musical materials. They are administered by the Library of Congress and last for the life of the author plus seventy additional years.
Patents protect inventions. They are administered by the United States Patent & Trademark Office and last up to twenty years from date of filing.
Trademark protects identifiers (logos, names, slogans, etc.) that are used to identify the source of a commercial good or service. They are administered by the USPTO and they last as long as they remain in active use.
Trade Secrets protect secret information, often information that isn't patentable or is too sensitive to patent. They only last as long as they're secret, and are protected by legal documents like non-disclosure agreements.
What Are Patents?
A patent is a property right granted by a government agency (in the United States, it's the US Patent & Trademark Office) for a novel, useful, and non-obvious invention. Patent protection lasts twenty years from the filing date and allows the inventor or their assignee to exclude other people from making, using, selling, or importing an invention.
Why Search Patents?
Patents are excellent sources of technical, legal, historical, and commercial information. You might want to search patents because . . .
- you want to get a patent on your new invention, and you need to figure out if someone else has already patented it.
- you want to find the technical details of how an invention works.
- you want to find out what a specific inventor or company is patenting, to give you a peek into their research and development activities.
- you are interested in the history of science and technology.
How Do I Search Patents?
Patents can be difficult to search because they often use complicated, obscure legal-technical language.
The right way to do a patent search depends on what you're trying to find and how rigorous you need to be. A basic exploratory search might take the form of a keyword search in a database like Google Patents or Derwent Innovations Index, using patent classifications to expand or narrow your search as needed. A more rigorous patentability search, on the other hand, might follow the USPTO's official "Seven Step Strategy" process and use the official government patent searching tools.
If you are a Purdue student, faculty, or staff entrepreneur, you will also want to contact Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). From their About Us page:
Purdue's intellectual property is an asset we strive hard to protect, market and license. We work hand-in-hand with Purdue faculty-, staff- and student-entrepreneurs to provide the resources needed to better understand Purdue policies related to intellectual property and the processes whereby this intellectual property, including patents, copyright, trademarks and tangible research property, can become a product or service. To ensure the long-term success of the innovations, we take the process one step further, offering our inventors help to form startup companies complete with investor support and qualified management teams.