Skip to Main Content

Patents: Home

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document granted by a government to an inventor, giving them the exclusive right make, use, sell or licence their invention. Patents are granted for a fixed period of time (usually 20 years) and are usually first taken out in their country of origin but can be granted in more than one country. Patents are granted to an industrial processes or to significant improvements to existing ones and to new products including chemical compounds, foods and drugs.

Image: Learning to swim by W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) Source

Why search patents?

  • As part of your literature review. Patent searching keeps you up to date with the latest innovations in your field. Details of new technologies are usually first published in patents before they appear in conferences and journals and may not appear elsewhere.

  • To learn how something works. Patents contain detailed technical information with illustrations.

  • To check if a concept or invention has been patented already before your start a new research project or spin-off venture.

  • To find information on a company’s activities, or identify experts in a field.

Patent support for DCU researchers

If you have a novel idea but you're not sure what steps to take next to protect it, contact the Invent DCU Intellectual Property and Commercialisation Team as early as possible in your research.

Format of a patent application by the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland. See sample PDFs at end of section for agricultural, chemical, engineering, and telecommunications specifications.

See also: How to apply for a patent (Ireland)

Recommended patent resources

Espacenet offers free access to information about inventions and technical developments from the 1836 to present. You can also search individual National Patent Office databases eg. Ireland. Here's an introductory video.

Search Patentscope by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for full-text of patent documents and Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications. "By filing one international patent application under the PCT, applicants can simultaneously seek protection for an invention in [152 contracting states]" (, 2017Click here for info. on coverage

Free Patents Online provides access to US patents, US patent applications, European patent (EP) documents, Abstracts and patent documents of Japan, WIPO documents (including PCT applications). More coverage information here; broadly: US 1976-, EP 1978-, WIPO 1978-, Japan 1991-  Register for a free account for added value options.

Google Patents includes 87 million+ patent publications from 17 patent offices. More info. on coverage

 A complete, up-to-date collection of US patents and patent applications from 1790. Patents before 1976 can only be searched by patent number, year or classification.

Search options: the Patent register for published Irish and European patents; the Patent database to include applications; and the Supplementary Protection Certificate database


Available to us via IReL. Covers US, European, WIPO and Asian organic chemistry patents 1976-. Includes Asian-language patents from China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Please note: you will need to log in using your DCU username and password. 


Available to us via IReL (you will need to access via the Library website and create our own (free) user account here) Search for specific patents in chemistry and related sciences: proteomics; genomics; biochemistry; biochemical genetics; organic; macromolecular; applied physical; inorganic; analytical.

CAS coverage of patents | CAS coverage of patents by year