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The Constitution of the United States gives Congress the power to enact laws relating to patents, in Article I, section 8, which reads "Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."
Selected Patent Search Databases
USPTO: United States Patent Office
This is the official US government database for patents. Full text (1976--date); selected searching from 1790-- .
"Search and read the full text of patents from around the world."
This is the European Patent Office search tool, covering the 19th century to date.
Patent by Max Fleischer, artist unknown; cropped/retouched by Rl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons