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This guide, intended for the novice legal researcher, law student, or law librarian, provides suggested resources for finding cases, statutes, regulations, and historical documents related to patent law.
Last Updated: Jul 3, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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What is a Patent?

A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

There are three types of patents. Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Source: Patents. United States Patent Office, 2013. Web. 23 June 2013.


A Bit About Sources

Primary sources

A basic understanding of the United States legal system is essential to knowing what to look for and where to find it. The legal system is actually three parallel systems -- federal law, state law, and administrative law -- operating under the authority of the US and state Constitutions. The primary law of each system flows from three primary sources:

  • Statutes (Constitution and laws enacted by the legislature)
  • Cases (judicial opinions issued by courts)
  • Adjudications (administrative agency materials)

In order to research effectively, you must determine if the issue involves federal or state law and what type of primary law applies.

Secondary sources

To determine what law applies, you can turn to secondary sources. This catch –all category of legal materials is essentially everything that is NOT primary law. Secondary sources are materials that explain, analyze,critique or help you find the law. Examples are:

  •  Legal encyclopedias
  • Treatises
  • Legal periodicals
  • Practice materials

Many researchers recommend beginning with secondary sources because these helpful materials are a rich source of citationsto the primary law.

Source: Basics of Legal Research. Cornell University Law Library, 2013. Web. 23 June 2013.


Some Key and Introductory Resources

Cover Art
Chisum on Patents - Donald S. Chisum
ISBN: 9780820515250
Publication Date: 1978-
A fourteen-volume continually-updating looseleaf treatise that is the definitive resource on patent law. Volumes 11 through 17 consist of a "Cumulative Guide to the Patent-Related Decisions of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit."

Cover Art
Patent Law in a Nutshell - Martin J. Adelman, Randall R. Rader, Gordon P. Klancnik
ISBN: 0314256504
Publication Date: 2008
A readable and concise summary of all basic aspects of patent law, from patent acquisition and eligibility to claim construction to infringement. The resource covers international as well as US patent law.

Cover Art
Moy's Walker on Patents - R. Carl Moy
Publication Date: 2003-
The third edition of long-running Walker on Patents, Moy's five-volume sets covers the patent system and process, as well as infringement and litigation.

Cover Art
Patent Searching - Long Nguyen, Matthew Rodgers, David Hunt
ISBN: 9780471783794
Publication Date: 2007
This guide provides a comprehensive guide to searching, from an overview of the examination process, to the mechanics of searching, to a comprehensive listing and review of potential patent search resources.

LC Subject Headings

These Library of Congress subject headings can be used in any library catalog to find relevant resources in your institution.  Also consider using Worldcat to find resources in your vicinity; even if you can't borrow personally from all other libraries, your home library may be able to borrow from proximate institutions via interlibrary loan.

  • Patent infringement -- United States
  • Patent laws and legislation -- United States
  • Patent licenses -- United States
  • Patent practice -- United States
  • Patent suits -- United States
  • Intellectual property -- United States
  • Patents -- United States
  • Patents and Government Developed Inventions -- United States
  • Patents, Government-Owned -- United States
  • United States. Leahy-Smith America Invents Act
  • United States. Patent and Trademark Office

Subject Guide

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