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Guide to Intellectual Property: What is a Patent Model?

Intellectual Property

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we are committed to guiding innovators of all ages to understand the value of their own ideas as well as the power of the U.S. intellectual property (IP) system to help them protect those ideas and successfully bring them to market. With our “Guide to Intellectual Property” blog series, we’ve been exploring aspects of the IP system from prototypes to patents, and in this edition, we’ll take a look at patent models. 


What is a patent model?

From 1790 until 1880, the U.S. patent system required inventors applying for a patent to submit a patent model — a small-scale, 3D, working representation of their invention.

No larger than 12 by 12 by 12 inches, patent models allowed inventors to demonstrate the function and features of their invention without having to describe them all in a written application or through complex diagrams. The models also allowed for easy comparison with existing inventions.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “Currently, applicants are neither required nor generally permitted to submit any type of working model with their patent application unless the USPTO deems it necessary for any purpose in examination of the application.” Instead, most inventors today submit patent drawings as part of their efforts to obtain IP protection. The USPTO explains that “a patent application is required to contain drawings if drawings are necessary to understand the subject matter to be patented.” 

To learn more about the modern patent process, you can read our blog on the topic and visit the USPTO for more details.


Where can I find patent model artifacts?

Though the USPTO’s collection of patent models was affected by a major fire in 1836 and another in 1877 that destroyed 76,000 models, there are still opportunities to view some of these invaluable pieces of America’s innovative heritage.

When you visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, you will see several patent models on display, in addition to a variety of exhibits designed to honor our world-changing NIHF Inductees and bring the history of American innovation to life. This National Monument to Innovation® is located within the USPTO Headquarters Madison Building in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum offers free admission and an inspiring, family-friendly experience.

While in D.C., you can also find patent models at the National Museum of American History.

To learn more about IP, we encourage you to visit the NIHF blog for more of our “Guide to Intellectual Property” series.  

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