What Does a Patent Number Tell You About the Product?

By Stephanie Dube Dwilson

The U.S. patent numbering system is more complex than you might think at first glance. Each number provides information on when the patent was issued along with the type of patent issued. If you know the correct patent number, you can find the patent application by searching for it on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.

The U.S. patent numbering system is more complex than you might think at first glance. Each number provides information on when the patent was issued along with the type of patent issued. If you know the correct patent number, you can find the patent application by searching for it on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.

Basics

In the U.S., patent numbers use a continuous numbering system. This means that for each type of patent, the numbering starts at one and increases by one as each new patent is awarded. In the U.S., patent numbers are seven characters long, so the very first utility patent awarded, for example, would be 0000001. You can tell the year a patent was issued based solely on its number. For example, a patent number between 110,617 and 122,303 was issued in 1871. If you're searching for the patent outside of the USPTO database, you'll also need to add the prefix US to the number to indicate it is a United States patent.

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Utility

Patent numbers that don't have a letter in them (excluding the US prefix if you're searching outside of the USPTO database) are utility patents. A utility patent is the most common type of patent issued by the USPTO. It refers to an invention that can be categorized as a process, composition of materials, machine or an improvement on any of these categories. A utility patent gives the inventor exclusive rights to make or sell the invention for 20 years.

Design

A patent number that starts with a D is a design patent. These are a little more complicated, but are essentially ornamental designs added to a tangible item. To qualify, the design must be original, new and can't have any useful purpose that might qualify it for a utility patent instead. The design must be fixed to the item and can't be removable. A design patent protects the appearance of an item, while a utility patent protects how the item works or how it's used.

Plant

A patent number that starts with the letters PP indicates that it's a plant patent. Any plant that qualifies must be asexually reproduced and must be newly invented or newly discovered. The plant can't be in an uncultivated state. The USPTO website has more details regarding what types of plants qualify. A patent award grants the owner an exclusive right to make the plant, use it or sell it for 20 years.

Other Types

An RE before a patent number indicated it is a reissue patent that corrects an error in a previously awarded patent. A T indicates it's a defensive publication, meaning it was published to prevent others from obtaining a patent but the inventor didn't seek patent rights. An H means statutory invention registration, which is the same as a defensive publication, but for the years 1985-1986 only. An RX before the patent number means the patent was re-examined to validate it based on another party's request. And an AI before the patent number stands for additional improvement, a designation given from 1838 to 1861 for patents in which an inventor was improving on his own invention.

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What Needs a Patent: An Idea or An Invention?

References

Related articles

Elements of a Patent

A patent gives an inventor the legal right to prevent others from making, using or selling the inventor’s new device, process, design or substance. In effect, a patent is a short-term monopoly for an invention. Most patents expire in 20 years. A patent grant encompasses the elements of the inventor’s patent application. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reviews patent applications and issues a certificate for each approved patent. This certificate acknowledges that the federal government has granted the inventor a patent for the invention. Patents have several required elements.

How to Cite a Patent Application

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.

How to Find Out If Something Has Been Patented

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for reviewing applications and determining whether to issue a patent. Since the underlying purpose of a patent is to protect the inventor's rights to a unique invention, similar inventions will not receive a second patent. As a result, it’s imperative that you search the USPTO patent database to find out if something has been patented prior to filling out an application.

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