Patents are a way of protecting inventions - the owner can stop other people making, using or selling the item without their permission. This applies for a limited period and a separate application is needed for each country.
Patents can be useful since they contain full technical details on how an invention works. If you use an active patent outside of research - permission or a license is probably needed.
Patents are often available freely online - the services below allow searching and access to the full text.
The University's Research & Innovation Services can provide help and advice with the establishment and protection of Intellectual Property Rights.
Free search services can be useful, but a professional search would be recommended for a patent application. Both expertise of the searcher and access to expensive specialised databases can be important.
You may want to consult the BL Patents Information for advice or consider getting a paid search, for instance from the British Library (paid) Research service. There are many article about the patent application.
Below are some useful links to help you understand patent information.