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A patent protects new inventions and covers how things work, what they do, how they do it, what they are made of and how they are made.

A patent gives the owner the right to prevent others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without permission.

There are three kinds of patent:

  1. Patents of invention
    (known as Utility Patents in the USA).

  2. Utility Models
    short term (six to 10 years) national patents available in China, Germany, Japan and Australia plus several other countries, but not the United Kingdom, the USA or Canada.

  3. US Design patents
    these are equivalent to Registered Designs available in other countries

All are included in patent search databases.

To be patentable an invention must be:

  • New
  • Innovative
  • Better or cheaper or different to anything that has been done before

It is important to keep your idea confidential until you file your patent application. Making it public before you apply may mean that you cannot patent it or it could invalidate your patent. If you need to discuss your idea with anyone before you apply for a patent you should do so using a Non-Disclosure Agreement or a Confidential Disclosure Agreement.

The exception to this is discussing your idea with a patent attorney or other legally qualified person.

Hints and tips

Name searching:

  • Personal names – search as both inventor and applicant
  • Corporate names – you may have to search all possible options for comprehensive coverage e.g. 3M, MMM, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.
  • Product names and or brands – The trade mark, trade name or brand is unlikely to have been decided before the patent was filed so searching for these is unlikely to be productive. However, you can search to see who owns the trademark or brand and then search their name as applicant if it is a company, or inventor or applicant if it is an individual.

Subject searching:

  • Search using keywords that describe the inventive step in your idea. The inventive step is whatever it is that makes your idea better or cheaper or different to anything already in the public domain.

To Search for a Patent


As part of the PatLib network, Sheffield Libraries has a historic collection of Patents dating from 1856 to 1900, and can support you to do a Patent search on a number of our databases. 

For advice and guidance on patents, business information or other Intellectual Property, book a one-to-one with one of the team, or join one of our Intellectual Property workshops.

We also hold confidential patent clinics in partnership with local experts.

Book onto our upcoming events here.