How to Cite a Patent Application

By Lisa Magloff

A patent is a type of intellectual property right granted by the U.S. government. Patents allow inventors to prevent other people from copying or using their invention without compensation. Each patent is given a unique number by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If you are a researcher, lawyer or journalist, it may be necessary for you to cite patents in your work. The exact method for citation that you use will depend on where you are citing the patent. Different methods are used for legal citations, scientific citations and journalism.

Step 1

Cite patents in legal papers by analogy to the “Bluebook,” which provides guidelines on citation for lawyers. The Bluebook suggests patent citations should be listed by patent number and date of issue. For example: U.S. Patent No. 5,636,220 (issued Mar. 12, 2007).

Step 2

Use the American Chemical Society (ACS) Style Guide method of citation for citing patents in scientific papers. The ACS Style Guide recommends citing patents by name of patent holder, title, patent number and year of issue. For example: Smith, J. Widget for mounting wind turbines. U.S. Patent 5,636,220, 2007. Some science editors require use of the Council of Scientific Editors (CSE) Style Guide, rather than the ACS. The CSE offers two formats for citing patents. The name-date format includes inventor, date, title of patent, issuing country, patent number. For example: Smith, J., inventor; 2007 Mar. 12. Widget for mounting wind turbines. United States patent US 5,636,220. The citation-sequence format is patent holder, title, country issuing the patent, patent number, issue date. For example: Smith, J, inventor; Widget for mounting wind turbines. United States patent US 5,636,220. 2007 Mar. 12.

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Step 3

Cite patents in newspapers and magazines using the AP Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style. Your editor will tell you which format to use. For AP style, the citation format is: Inventor. (Year). Patent Number. Source. For example: Smith, J. (2007). U.S. Patent No. 5,636,220. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Chicago Manual of Style format is: Inventor. Title. Patent number, year of filing. For example: Smith, J. Widget for mounting wind turbines. US Patent 5,636,220, filed June 16, 2005, and issued Mar. 12, 2007.

Step 4

Use the MLA style of patent citation when writing academic research papers. The manual does not specifically mention patents, but you can cite by analogy. The format should be Inventor. Title. Patent Number. Date. For example: Smith, J. Widget for mounting wind turbines. Patent 5,636,220. 12 Mar. 2007.

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Examples of Patents


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