Patents, trademarks and copyrights are all forms of protection offered by the federal government. Each of these legal devices help to protect a person's right to what they have created, but each is used in different circumstances.

Protects an invention. A patent does not guarantee the right to make, market and sell an invention, only the right to exculde others for doing so, once a patent has been issued.
Protects a word, symbol or phrase (or some combination thereof) that idetifies goods or services in inter-state commerce.
Protects artistic or literary works.

Once your patron has decided which of the three kinds of protection should be sought, you can check your collection for specific instructions on how to go about obtaining the protection. Don't overlook your pamphlet files. The government produces excellent pamphlets on these subjects and you may find them in your files. BASIC FACTS ABOUT PATENTS and BASIC FACTS ABOUT TRADEMARKS are two which are good.

Tradenames are not the same as trademarks. Trademarks can be registered with the U.S. Patent Office and identify a product or service. The Tradename is the name of the business or company itself. Proctor and Gamble is a tradename. Proctor and Gamble owns many products with various trademarks such as Prell and Gleem. Tradenames can be registered with counties or with the Corporations departments or the Secretaries of State of individual states. Tradenames are not registered with the Patent Office.


Patent questions often fall into two major categories:

  1. Patrons want to obtain copies or summaries of a particular patent
  2. They need help in obtaining their own patents for inventions

COPIES of patents can be obtained by contacting INFORM, the fee-based information service of the Minneapolis Public Library and Information Service, or can be purchased from the Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C.

TO OBTAIN A PARTICULAR PATENT, the patron must first have the patent number, and if possible, the name of the inventor, or company to whom the patent rights were assigned, the name of the invention, and the date of the patent.

The OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF THE UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE is one source which indexes patents by the name of the inventor or the company to which the patent was assigned, and the subject of the invention. There are many other indexes to patents which exist and patrons who are planning to do a thorough patent search need to become familiar with them.

When a SUMMARY is all that is needed, it is usually faster and easier to obtain than the entire patent. THE OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF THE UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE comes out each week and lists patents granted and other information about the legal status of individual patents. It includes a drawing of the item and a brief paragraph describing the item. Government depository and many larger libraries in Minnesota have THE OFFICIAL GAZETTE, especially for recent years.

You can obtain a SUMMARY from THE OFFICIAL GAZETTE through your regular interlibrary loan procedures. Be sure to include the patent number. If you do not know the patent number, treat this as a reference question and do not send the request through ILL channels./

PATENT SEARCHES must be done before an invention can be patented to be sure that the invention has not already been patented by someone else. These searches are quite extensive and take a great deal of time and often require technical expertise, so libraries can't do them for patrons. Patrons must do the searches for themselves, or hire someone to do them. Patrons who choose to do their own searches will need to visit the Minneapolis Public Library and Information Center, the only patent depository library in Minnesota, to use the special search tools available there.

Go to Patent Libraries in Minnesota.

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The page was updated December 5, 2003.