PTRCs—the Cure for Information Overload
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the information involved in obtaining patent protection, registering trademarks, setting up business plans, or conducting market research? The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) partners with specially designated libraries nationwide to provide training and resources that can help you in your intellectual property goals. This library network of Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) is available in most states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
If you’ve been an inventor for several years, you may know PTRCs by an earlier name: Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries. The library network changed its name in 2011 to better reflect the electronic resources available in these libraries. The name may have changed, but the same great personal service is still available. And since then, we’ve added several new libraries to our list.
While these libraries vary in type—some are public libraries, some academic, some state—they share a common goal of providing inventors and entrepreneurs with face-to-face guidance on how to successfully exploit and protect their intellectual property. The USPTO annually trains these librarians to keep up with the latest USPTO information products and services, and all PTRCs provide access to the frequently updated databases of the USPTO website, as well as PubWEST, the public version of the Web-based Examiners Search Tool, and various trademark products. The PubWEST portal has powerful search features that expedite searching and include full-text access to U.S. patents from 1920 to today in addition to dedicated databases for searching non-U.S. patents and published patent applications.
Though PTRC librarians cannot provide legal advice or conduct patentability prior-art searches, they can show you a recommended step-by-step approach to doing a thorough job of a preliminary search of U.S. patents and published patent applications using a generic example and how to search effectively for trademark registrations. The PTRC librarians can also provide help in accessing non-U.S. patents and published patent applications as well as non-patent literature, though this access will vary by library and may have associated costs.
PTRCs have both print books and e-books that you can use to tackle those challenging topics of how to create a business plan, how to conduct market research, and whether or not to license your invention. Many have partnered with their local Small Business Development Centers to provide informational programs. Find your Small Business Development Center at www.asbdc-us.org. Others have partnered with SCORE, located online at www.score.org, a business counseling and mentoring organization providing free counseling, resources, and advice to people who are in business or want to start a business.
Many PTRCs also provide public workshops on how to conduct preliminary patent and trademark searches and other related business topics. And PTRC libraries are often selected as host sites for official USPTO information sessions regarding important initiatives underway. PRTCs hosted 13 USPTO-sponsored America Invents Act roadshows this year to explain the changes to patent law and get stakeholder feedback.
The chief benefit inventors tell us they find in researching at a PTRC is that they can sit down and receive free, face-to-face help from information professionals who help them make the best use of their limited time. Ultimately, inventors may choose to hire a patent attorney or agent, but by spending time at a PTRC learning the language and concepts of patenting, inventors can potentially save time and money.
With over 80 network libraries there is probably a PTRC close to you. Check www.uspto.gov/ptrc for a complete list. PTRC librarians can often help answer your intellectual property questions by phone or email without necessitating a physical visit to the library. And if you do visit, it’s a good idea to call first and make an appointment with the PTRC designated librarian. While assistance with U.S. patent and trademark searching is free, some libraries may have photocopying, printing, parking, or other typical library fees. Be sure to ask about this when you are calling ahead for your appointment.
PTRCs are a great way to get started on your patent and trademark journey. Through collaboration with local libraries, the USPTO demonstrates its commitment to serving independent inventors and small business owners. Find a PTRC near you and come see what they are all about.