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.
A patent does not grant the inventor the right to make, use, offer for sell, etc. only the right to exclude others from doing so. U.S. patents are effective only within the United States. The federal government does not enforce a patent that is responsible of the patentee.
There are three types of U.S. patents: Utility, Design, and Plant. Utility Patents cover new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement to any of the above. Design patents cover new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, and finally Plant Patents cover distinct and new varieties of a plant. In the United States patents are granted by the federal government and governed by federal law. Since 1985, Utility and Plant Patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date of application subject to the payment of appropriate maintenance fees, while Design Patents last 14 years from the date granted.
Since June 8, 1995 inventors have had the option of filing a "provisional application for a patent". Because it is not examined, etc. like a traditional (nonprovisional) patent application, an earlier filing date can be established. A provisional application is only good for 12 months, cannot be renewed, and a traditional application should be filed within 12 months to lock in the early filing date. This low cost first filing method allows the term "Patent Pending" to be applied in connection to a description of the invention.
Besides the United States, other nations also grant patents, and while the types are similar, there are some very marked differences in the protection granted, the processes, etc. One of the most notable is in what constitutes "new".
US Patents Searching. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Espacenet Patent Search. (European Patent Office) International Patent Searching. Video tutorial available explaining how to conduct a search in Espacenet.
Google Patents. (Google) Search and read full text of patents from around the world. Coverage varies from country to country. Translations provided when necessary.
Patent Lens. (Cambia) Patents from all developed countries and many developing countries. Includes PDFs of most patents.
Patent Searching. (irossco.com) Links to free databases for patent searching. Be careful using any the databases listed since some of the listings allow “free searching” for a limited amount of time, than become subscription based, but still a very useful list.
EFS - Web. (United States Patent and Trademark Office) US Patent Application Web site
Design Patent Application Guide. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)
General Information About 35 U.S.C. 161 Plant Patent. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)
Nonprovisional (Utility) Patent Appication Filing Guide. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)
Patents Forms. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)
Provisional Application for Patent. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)
PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) Application (concurrent application in more than 150 countries)
How to Make Patent Drawings: A Patent It Yourself Companion. Jack Lo and David Pressmen. Berkeley, California: Nolo, 2015. Explains how to make patent drawings required for an application. Also check public libraries in your area for this title.
Nolo's Patents for Beginners. David Pressman and Richard Stim. Berkeley, California: Nolo, 2018. Provides an introduction to the patent process, etc. Also check public libraries in your area for this title.
Patent Cultures: Diversity and Harmonization in Historical Perspective. Graeme Gooday and Steven Wilf (Editors) Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Explores the historical background of how various countries patent processes have evolved and why despite numerous attempts at reaching a common system these variants persist.
Patent It Yourself: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing at the U.S. Patent Office. David Pressman. Berkeley, California: Nolo, 2020. Step-by-Step guide to filing a patent. Also check public libraries in your area for this title.
Patent Pending in 24 Hours. Richard Stim and David Pressman. Berkeley, California: Nolo, 2019. Information on applying for a provisional patent, etc. Also check public libraries in your area for this title.
Patent Searching. (University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Libraries) Tutorial on searching Google Patents and USPTO.
Patents. (United States Patent and Trademark Office) Information from the Patent and Trademark Office on various aspects of the patenting process.