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Find out the origin and detail surrounding an invention or innovation.
Patents are used to establish the primacy of an invention or innovation. The US Patent Office was started in 1790 and has been keeping records of every great (and weird) American invention since then.
The patent system in the United States was based on the English patent system and arose to help encourage and protect inventors and scientists. Although many of the original colonies had their own form of patent law, it was Thomas Jefferson, himself an inventor, who insisted that the Constitution include a system for patents.
The patent is only meant to protect an actual physical invention or innovation, not an idea. That is why all patents must have detailed mechanical drawings included with the written document.
All patents are stored in Washington. The process for applying for a product can take a number of years and in some cases, in the time between filing a patent and receiving the patent, an innovation may have been superceded by a better one. Regardless, the owners of the earlier-filed patent may have legal rights over the newer invention, making the filing of a patent important commercially.
Patent or Trademark or Copyright?
People are often confused by the legal differences between a trademark, copyright and a patent. A trademark is either a word, phrase or symbol that is unique to one product (such as the Nike "Swoosh" or the Pillsbury Dough Boy) whereas a patent protects an invention and a copyright protects an artistic or literary work. The patent office keeps records of trademarks and patents, both of which are searchable online.
A Patently Obvious Search
Researching the patent history of a product can confirm (or not) the time period of an object. Patent research may on the face of it sound rather dull, but it serves a useful purpose to the history detective in search of the provenance of an object. If you're unsure of an object's age, a patent search can help to uncover it.