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Friday, April 10, 2015

How do I look up a patent?

“I have an ashtray shaped like a frog and I want to know when it was patented. It has ‘U.S. Patent 364523’ stamped on the bottom.”

provides an option to search by patent number, but when we looked up 364523, it brought up an 1867 patent for “producing justified lines of type.” Clearly, that wasn’t what our patron had, so we took a different tack.

The site also gives an option to search for patents by class. Classes include everything from apparel to coin handling to bee culture. We selected the one that seemed most applicable – “tobacco and smokers’ supplies” – and then looked under the subheading “ash receiver, snuffer, or support therefor.” There were several different options to choose from there as well. We followed a trail of subheadings from “simulative” to “animate” to “aquatic” to find of a list of all the patented ashtrays bearing the likenesses of aquatic animals, thirty-five in all. Of those thirty-five, three were in the shape of frogs, and one was the one our patron was looking for. Invented by David Frishman, this particular frog-shaped ashtray was patented on November 16, 1920.

Why didn’t it come up when we searched by the patent number? As it turned out, 364523 wasn’t the patent number at all but the serial number, and the stamp on the bottom of the frog was misleading.

For information on filing your own patent, Patent It Yourself by David Pressman is available for borrowing at the Newton Falls Public Library.

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