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How to Cite a Patent in Harvard Style?

Published by at August 30th, 2021 , Revised On August 23, 2023


1.    What is a Patent?

A patent is a document given to an inventor by their government after they have invented something new for the first time, something that doesn’t already exists. The document grants them rights and ownership to their invention.

No one else—not individuals nor organisations—are allowed to re-invent, commercialise, sell, buy or infringe on the invention in any way once a patent has been granted. If anyone decides to do so, they will first need permission from the owner (the inventor, in such a case).


2.    What is the importance of a patent?

The main charm and importance of the patent system lie in the fact that they are a government’s way of encouraging inventions. By granting inventors patents, the government, in a way, grants them ‘protection’ to be sole owners of their own inventions.

This way, inventors—creators, designers, architects, engineers and the like—feel secure that no one will infringe upon their work. Not without their consent first, anyway.


3.    Where did patents come from?

The history of patents goes back to the early 1450s in Venice, Italy. Whenever an invention came along the way, inventors sought the Republic’s (their government, at that time) legal protection so that no one unlawfully own or resells the original invention. The legal protection, mostly granted to glassmakers at the time, was granted for 10 years.

Fun fact: Even legendary artist-inventors such as da Vinci frequently sought a patent for his many, many inventions. There was also a sum of money involved in case the Republic bought the inventions.


4.    Where are patents published?

In order to cite a patent, its complete information is required. And that information can be accessed online easily by anyone. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a public search facility located in Alexandria, Virginia (VA) that allows for easy public access to patent and trademark information. The details are present in various formats, mainly electronic, print and microfilm.


·         Patent numbers

This is a very important detail that helps in finding the right patent using USPTO (as described under the next heading section). The number of a patent is its identifier, mainly. It’s assigned to a patented document by a patent officer. A patent number contains several information, such as the digits corresponding to its year of publication and the patent’s own number itself.

A patent number will normally be seven digits in length. Some 0s might come at the start of it. Its format depends on the office that issued it, for instance, the state the office is in; the type of patent and when it was published/granted to an inventor.

Important point to note: Before citing patents, their type should be checked for. Patents are of three main types. The most common type is utility patents, related to machines, components of machines or other resources that are utilised by people in daily life. Design patents are related to surface configuration of a patent; how it’s designed. And if a new plant or a plant species has been discovered, plant patents are sought after.


5.    How to search for patents?

Searching for patents has been made simple with USPTO. All that is needed is the patent number. However, Google Patents can also be used in much the same way as USPTO to search for patents using their numbers alone.

To search for a patent, enter its number without any punctuation marks.

If you know the patent number, use either Google Patents or the USPTO website to find the patent. Enter the patent number without commas, and when using the USPTO website, the patent number must be seven numbers in length (add preceding zero’s if necessary).


Patent citations

Patents are cited so that other patents, government officials, the general public or those from the scientific community know of an invention. Therefore, citing patents is not that different from, suppose, citing research papers within a research paper.

Harvard referencing uses the following basic format to reference and cite a patent:

In-text citation: (Author Surname, Year Published)

Reference list entry: Author Surname, Author Initial. (Year Published). Title of the Patent in italics. Patent Number.

Important point to note: The ‘..’ after the patent title is a compulsory, intentional part of referencing patents in Harvard style.

For example:

In-text citation: Apparatus for making three-dimensional physical objects of a predetermined shape by sequentially depositing multiple layers of solidifying material on a base member in a desired pattern (Stratasys, Inc., 1989)

Reference list entry: Stratasys, Inc., (1989). Apparatus and Method for Creating Three-dimensional Objects.. US5121329.

Here, US at the beginning of the patent number (US5121329) indicated that it was issued to an inventor by the US government.


Standard versus Patent

A patent can be either an invention patent, in which case it is just referred to as a standard patent. Or it can be an innovative patent, in which case it is just called a patent. The citation and referencing formats in Harvard style are exactly the same, whether it’s a standard or a patent.


How to Cite Patents from Different Kinds of Sources

A patent can either be in print or electronic form. It can be retrieved from a website or a database. Following are some common platforms of patens and how they are cited according to Harvard referencing.

It should be noted, however, that the referencing and citation formats are the same no matter which source or platform a patent is published on and retrieved from.


1.    Citing patents published in print

For example:

In-text citation: (Kassiou et al. 2018)

Reference list entry: Kassiou, M, Jorgensen, W, Munoz, L & The University of Sydney 2018, Anti-cancer compounds, 2018900315.


2.    Citing patents published in a database

The term ‘retrieved from’ followed by the name of the database is written at the end of the reference list entry.

For example:

In-text citation: (Larson, Reid & Oronsky 2018)

Reference list entry: Larson, C, Reid, TR & Oronsky, BT 2018, Immunomodulatory fusion proteins, US20180134766, viewed 23 May 2018, retrieved from Scopus.


3.    Citing standards published in a print

For example:

In-text citation: (Standards Australia/New Zealand Standard 2016)

Reference list entry: Standards Australia 2016, Quality management systems – requirements, AS/NZS ISO 9001:2016, Standards Australia, NSW.


4.    Citing standards published in a database

For example:

In-text citation: (Standards Australia 2018)

Reference list entry: Standards Australia 2018, Audio/video, information and communication technology equipment- safety requirements, AS 62368.1-2018, viewed 23 May 2018, retrieved from SAI Global database.


Other Things to Remember while Citing Patents in Harvard Style

  1. The title of the patent might be more description than a single-phrased, formal title (such as Apparatus and Method for Creating Three-dimensional Objects.. in the example above).
  2. If the author of the patent title is missing, the name of the organisation can be used in place of author for in-text Harvard citations.
  3. The patent number and other, standard numbers within the reference list should be easily identifiable by the reader.


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Frequently Asked Questions

To cite a patent in Harvard style:

  • Format: Inventor(s) last name, first initial. (Year). Patent Title. Patent Number. [Online] Available at: URL (Accessed Date).
  • Example: Smith, J. (2023). “A New Invention.” US Patent 1234567. [Online] Available at: URL (Accessed Aug 1, 2023).

About Alaxendra Bets

Avatar for Alaxendra BetsBets earned her degree in English Literature in 2014. Since then, she's been a dedicated editor and writer at ResearchProspect, passionate about assisting students in their learning journey.