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Patents and Research: Patents

Brief description of the main classification systems within the patent area

What is a patent?

A patent is a document giving an inventor a legal, exclusive right to make, use and sell their invention in a particular country or countries, for a given period of time (normally 20 years). 

  • it includes a description of the process/item to be patented
  • it includes claims defining the scope of the legal right

A patent is granted by a state in exchange for the 'complete' disclosure of the invention with the aim of advancing the economy. An invention does not have to be patented, an alternative is to keep the invention a 'trade secret'. For example, the recipe for Coca-Cola is a trade secret and has never been patented or disclosed.  The inventor does not have to manufacture the product themselves: patent rights can be sold or licensed to others.

Where are the patents located

Many countries have gradually put their patent collections into available online databases. Patents can therefore be found by searching the national databases or the common interface Esp@cenet which contains more than 130 million patents from around the world (more than 100 countries). The database is available free of charge. 

EU og patents

The European Patent Convention provides a legal framework for granting Europe-wide patents through an application at the European Patent Office.  A single application, once granted,  gives protection in all of the countries who have signed up to the treaty. For the moment 24 European countries participates, look here for more information

The Unified Patent Court (UPC) will be a court common to the Contracting Member States and thus part of their judicial system. It will have exclusive competence in respect of European patents and European patents with unitary effect.

You can find more information on the Unified Patent Court and EU's patent work on the website of the European Commission

More tools for analyzes of patents etc.

Google Patent Search

All the documents to be found through Google Patents are from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), EPO (the European Patent Office) and WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization). From the USPTO you can apply for patents dating back to 1790, from the EPO and from WIPO dating back to 1978. Further information on Google Patents.

Google Patent Search

Patents and Utility models - Where to Find Them (Patent Databases)

A patent is a document giving an inventor a legal, exclusive right to make, use and sell their invention in a particular country or countries, for a given period of time (normally 20 years). 
A utility model is similar to a patent but is faster and cheaper to obtain than a patent. It can be useful to protect minor inventions with a shorter time of protection


  • Danmark:
    • PVSonline - Information on patent and utility model applications, case documents and rights that include Denmark 
    • Dansk Tidende (2018 - today) - is a publication which contains announcements of published rights within the patent, trademark and design area. Dansk Tidende is published in PDF format and listed by year from the 1998-2011 and can be found in the archive list. Patent- og brugsmodeltidende published in HTML format from the 2012 -  2018 can be found here.
  • Europa
    • EPO, European Patent Office - EPO was set up in 1973. From 16 signatory states of the European Patent Convention in 1973, the Organisation has now grown to 38 member states, including all 27 EU member states plus countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.
    • European Patent Register (EP) - Information on patent and utility model applications, case documents and rights
    • UK Intellectual Property Office - the official website in the UK in the field of intellectual property law


  • Internationalt:
    •  Espacenet - Information on patent and utility model applications, case documents and rights from all over the world.
      Via Espacenet you have access to more than 100 million references from all over the world. For most of the references from 1960 onwards, both the bibliographic information (publication number, applicant, inventor) and summary, as well as the title are searchable. For the older references before 1960, it is typically only the publication number and applicant / inventor that is searchable.
      Search tip: in the top right corner of the screen, you can use the "Change country/Language" function to select which European country you want to apply for patents from.
      In the Help function you have access to online guides, discussion forums, and glossaries that describe in more details concepts and words within the patent area.
      GPI, Global Patent Index - With GPI, you can perform more detailed searches. This search function is nor for free - however, you can register as a user and get one month of free access
      • perform regular monitoring (e.g. monthly or quarterly) of technical areas or companies to identify newly added patent documents
      • use the built-in charts to visualise technical trends and companies' patenting activity in your presentations and reports
      • choose the data you want to see and download to focus on what you are interested in
      • run data quality assessments to measure the risk of incomplete search results
    •  WIPO Patentscope: the database Patentscope provides access to all published PCT applications from 1978 to today (PCT, Patent Cooperation Treaty). You can search with keywords and IPC classifications.
    •  USPTO (USA): information on American patents - full text from 1976 to today -  and patent applications from 2001 - to today
    •  PAJ (Japan): provides Japanese patent abstracts from 1976 - to today
    •  KPA (Korea Patent Abstracts): contains English summaries of Korean patents from 1979 - d.d.
    •  China National Intellectual Property Administration: access to Chinese patents

Check the status of a patent

Patents only remain in force with payment of an annual fee.  You can check the status of a patent to find out if it has been granted, expired or remains in force.

Access to Online-Registers: patents, trademarks and design

Literature on patent law, trademark law etc.

Why is patent information useful?

Research activities of universities are normally published in journal articles.  Commercial companies rarely publish their research in journals: if it is published at all it will normally be in a patent document.  Much of the information held in patent documents never appears in journal articles.  In addition to finding unique information you can use the patent literature to:

  • find out which companies are working in your area of interest: this may help you to locate partners or sponsors
  • avoid infringing someone else's patent rights
  • assess the potential for patenting your own research.

What can be patented?

To be patentable an invention must fulfil the following criteria:

  • It must be new: something already produced cannot be patented
  • it must contain an inventive step which should not be obvious to someone already working in that area
  • it must not have been previously disclosed to anyone at all without a confidentiality agreement in place.  Speaking about it at a conference or writing about it in a journal article would prevent it being patented. If you are writing a PhD thesis and intend to patent your research, the thesis must have an embargo placed on it.
  • It must be capable of commercial exploitation: patents are expensive to get and to maintain!  

Creative works such as literary, musical or artistic works are covered by copyright not patent law.  Similarly, scientific or mathematical theories and computer programs are normally protected by copyright. 

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