U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at 225

On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the U.S. Patent Act into law, and on July 31 of that year, 225 years ago, the U.S. Patent Office officially opened.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants inventors exclusive rights to new inventions for a finite period—usually 20 years—in return for revealing details of how inventions work. After that, technological innovations that might otherwise have remained secret become available for anyone to use.

The Chicago Public Library is the Patent and Trademark Resource Center for northern Illinois, and has been since 1876. Most Patent Office publications are no longer distributed in print, so our role is to help inventors navigate the wealth of information on the USPTO website. Librarians are always available to provide basic assistance on the fourth floor of Harold Washington Library Center. We also have many books that explain patent and trademark processes and how individuals may secure their intellectual property and profit from their ideas.

Patent documents and application forms are available on the USPTO website. The site also includes many video tutorials to guide inventors and trademark seekers through their respective processes.

Patent It Yourself offers a clear and concise guide to the patent process, including evaluating whether your idea may be patented, performing a patent search, filing a provisional patent and preparing a formal patent application.

Trademarks are not just logos; in fact, business names, slogans, domain names and product names also fall under this umbrella. Trademark offers a plain-English guide to protecting all of the above and registering names and marks with the USPTO.

Did you know the contoured glass Coca-Cola bottle was the product of a design contest and awarded multiple patents over various iterations? The Man Behind the Bottle tells the story of this iconic design.