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Patent Law: A Beginner's Guide

Patents protect the rights of an inventor of certain items, including “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter,” among others. This guide provides a foundation for researching patent law and the patent process


Despite its seeming need for specialization and technical knowledge, patent law holds a large amount of interest for the public at large. The Law Library of Congress receives many questions regarding patent law, particularly with regard to the United States’ patent process. In recent years these questions have concerned the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) change from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system, implemented in 2013. In fact, this guide was initially compiled in response to that change.

While this short Beginner’s Guide may not cover all the various specific requirements that might arise while studying patent law and the patent process, it should provide you with a strong foundation in the area, and a way to find even more advanced information should you need it.

E. Sachse & Co., lithographer. Washington. Patent Office. Between 1865 and 1869. Popular Graphic Arts. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.