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Chemical Engineering : Find Patents

Why are patents important?

When doing background research for a design project, it's important to find relevant patents because:

  • It's how you can verify that your solution is unique and doesn't infringe on anyone else's intellectual property
  • Much of the technical information disclosed in patents can't be found anywhere else, so you can learn a lot about the current state of the art
  • Seeing how others have solved a problem can inspire ideas for your design

This guide will provide some tips for where and how to find patents effectively. If you have questions, please contact Jodi Bolognese at

Patents 101

Patents protect inventions.

"A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem." - World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

  • In order to qualify for a patent, an invention must be novel (new), useful, and non-obvious.
  • Patent protection typically lasts 20 years from when the patent is filed. That means no one else can make or sell that invention for 20 years. However, another inventor may iterate on a patented idea, and patent the improvement.
  • There are three types of patents: (1) utility, (2) design, and (3) plant. Most patents granted in the US are utility patents.

This tutorial explains the different parts of a patent.

This short article provides tips for reading a patent efficiently

To learn more about patents, visit USPTO's Patent Basics page.

How do I find relevant patents?

Searching for patents can be challenging because patents often use complex and varied legal and technical language. So keyword searching is likely to help you find some, but not all, relevant patents. 

A strategy called classification searching can help. Patents are organized into an international system of classification, or categories, called Cooperative Patent Classifications (CPC). If you can find the relevant CPC class for your project, you can more easily see what ideas have been patented related to your topic, anywhere in the world, even if different terms have been used to describe them. You'll also likely have fewer irrelevant results to look through.

Start by brainstorming keywords that describe your idea.

Think about what you are looking for and its function (what does it do?), composition/structure (what is it made of?), and intended use (what is it used for?). 

You can use those terms to create an effective search using AND to bring back multiple concepts in your results - for example, stent-graft AND coating. You can also use OR to include synonyms, so that your search captures more results - for example, stent-graft AND (coating OR adhesive OR polymer). Remember to think about alternate spellings and abbreviations. It's also best to avoid brand names, as they are trademarked separately and not likely to be included in patents.

Then, use those keywords to search by classification. 

You can also use those keywords to find the relevant CPC class, so that you can browse a more targeted category of patents. There are searchable CPC lists available in several patent databases, including Google PatentsUSPTOEspacenet and Lens. Once you've found relevant CPC class(es), you can search for it in multiple patent databases to make sure you're not missing any relevant patents.

USPTO's Seven Step Strategy is a helpful guide to combining keyword and classification searching into a thorough patent search.

And remember, searching is an iterative process. Try a search, evaluate your results, and adjust your search accordingly. And if you need help, ask a librarian!


Where do I search for patents?

Each patent database offers slightly different coverage, so a thorough patent search means searching in multiple databases. For tips on how to do that efficiently, check out How do I find relevant patents?.

Northeastern Inventors

If you would like to explore patenting your invention, please visit the Center for Research Innovation for information about the process and support provided by Northeastern.

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