MORGANTOWN — Whether it’s an inventor looking up the competition or a history buff interested in archived records, a West Virginia University resource center helps unravel the mystery of U.S. patents and trademarks.

The only official Patent & Trademark Resource Center in the state has been offering its services for nearly 25 years. Recently, it’s become a tool used more frequently by WVU students building businesses involving intellectual property, Marian Armour-Gemmen, the patent and trademark librarian at Evansdale Library, told The West Virginia Record.

“Using patents and trademarks is quite daunting for the novice inventor or the new business person. Since it’s administered by the federal government there are a lot of regulations,” Armour-Gemmen said. “I’ve had some very interesting independent inventors over the years that I’ve enjoyed working with.”

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has a network of official resource centers all over the country at public, state and academic libraries. It is designed to assist the public, and library staff are trained in using USPTO search tools to find the patent and trademark information. The records have changed over the years — from hard paper copies to microfiche to DVDs to online databases — but the premise is the same, Armour-Gemmen said.

“It’s really important to find a similar patent to your invention,” she said. “No invention stands alone. We don’t live in a vacuum — we’re influenced by somebody. It’s important to find ones that are similar to your invention so you can show how yours is novel.”

The centers are an important resource because of the value of intellectual property. The stakes are high for an inventor or business owner looking to protect their ideas or to avoid infringing on someone else’s — a mistake that can cost a lot of money.

In addition to providing access to search systems, demonstrating how to use the tools, and directing people to additional resources, resource centers also offer training sessions. Most of those are handled by Armour-Gemmen, either at the library or through webinars. In September, the USPTO offered one such workshop at the WVU center for the first time in 15 years. The sessions covered an introduction to intellectual property, hands-on training for patent and trademark searches and a panel discussion on services available at WVU.

For legal help, resource centers can point people to a directory of local patent attorneys. Because staff aren’t legal experts, they can’t interpret intellectual property law or give legal advice. 

Armour-Gemmen also works with LaunchLab, WVU’s startup resource center designed to help students and other people who have ideas for businesses. Among its services, LaunchLab teaches how to protect intellectual property.

“That’s a great resource for students,” she said.

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