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Patents and Trademarks: PTRC Basics

The Ryan-Matura Library is a United States Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


Preserve the Confidentiality of Your Invention: Since an invention cannot be patented (except under some limited circumstances) if it is "described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public," inventors should avoid these missteps by themselves or others prior to thoroughly investigating their intellectual property rights and possibly consulting with an IP attorney. (35 U.S.C. sec. 102)

Beware Patent & Trademark Scams: Unethical and dishonest individuals may solicit inventors for payments with a false or misleading promise of trademarks, patents, or promotions of a product. Read information about Scam Prevention from the USPTO and see examples of deceptive solicitations sent by non-USPTO entities.

Intellectual Property Rights

Types of Intellectual Property

Different types of "intellectual property" are protected using different techniques. Consider the nature of the idea you're researching to decide which technique(s) are appropriate.

  • Trademark - a word, phrase, or symbol used to distinguish a seller's goods from those of others.
  • Trade Dress - the total image and overall appearance of a product, e.g. packaging, labeling, design, decor.
  • Trade Secret -  valuable business information not generally known or ascertainable by the general public which the business intends to keep confidential, e.g. recipe, formula, customer list.
  • Copyright - exclusive right of a creator of an original work of authorship to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, or display the work.
  • Patent - protection of inventor's exclusive rights to a novel, useful, nonobvious process or device.

There are three kinds 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. Here is the process for obtaining a utility patent. 
  • 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.

Additional information at

IP for Non-English Speakers

Official United States Patent and Trademark Office records are published in English. Introductory video programs are available online in other languages as noted below. If you are not fluent in English, you may benefit from the assistance of a bilingual professional Patent Attorney or Patent Agent (see USPTO list of Registered Patent Attorneys and Agents).



Geographical Indication (GI) (Trademarks)


International Standards for Intellectual Property Enforcement

Start with an Appointment with the PTRC Librarian

Click on the blue Schedule tab on the right side of the page  to see available times and request an appointment for an individual consultation with the PTRC Librarian. The Librarian will help you develop search strategies for patent and trademark information, demonstrate search and learn about the application process. Consultations must be scheduled before PTRC search sessions.

About the  Patent and Trademark Resource Center

The Patent and Trademark Resource Center services and the USPTO workstation are located on the main floor in the Ryan-Matura Library.  You do not have to be a Sacred Heart University student, faculty or staff member to use the PTRC workstation or consult with a librarian.

PTRC Services offered at the Ryan-Matura Library:

  • Assist people in understanding how to conduct a preliminary patent or trademark search
  • Assist people in locating up-to-date patent & trademark resources
  • Provide access (only via dedicated terminal in library) to PubWEST &  PubEAST (patent examiner tools) for advanced searchers

Recognizing that intellectual property research is a complex endeavor with important legal and financial implications, our services are designed to support the individual or corporate/legal researcher's efforts to conduct self-directed and preliminary research.

Library staff cannot offer legal advice, conduct searches, assist in writing applications, guarantee completeness of searches, or advise on ideas. All final research, regarding intellectual property determinations, should be done in consultation with proper intellectual property legal professionals.

We will make every effort to protect the confidentiality and privacy of researchers.


Help for Inventors from USPTO

The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC)  at the USPTO provides patent information and services to the public. The IAC is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners and experienced Primary Examiners who answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure.

More About Patents

What kinds of ideas can be patented?

According to federal law, patentable inventions include:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents.

Some things which cannot be patented:

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected). Go to the Copyright Office(link is external) .
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality

Other requirements:

Invention must also be:

  • Novel
  • Nonobvious
  • Adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • Claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms

What are patent rights?

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Patents are granted for newuseful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period.  U.S. patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees.  The right conferred by the patent grant is "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in 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.

Patents are territorial, meaning that one must apply for patent protection in each country where protection is sought.  In other words, U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.

PTRC Librarian; Interim Social & Behavioral Sciences Librarian

Barbara Hampton

USPTO Fellow

Robert Berry
Robert Berry

Research Librarian, Social & Behavioral Sciences

Ryan-Matura Library, Sacred Heart University

5151 Park Avenue

Fairfield, CT 06825

Telephone: 203-365-4842