Legal research is an art that typically takes considerable practice and effort to become proficient. Don't let that put you off!  You will learn as you go.

While legal research often revolves around "finding the law" which means identifying the legislation, regulations, administrative rulings, judicial decisions and other sources of legal authority (taken together called primary sources), you will find that using law books (called treatises), scholarly articles (called law reviews), and news are a good way to begin your legal research.  Books & articles about legal topics are considered secondary sources, but that doesn't make them second rate, because they provide analysis and explanations of what the law is or ought to be and they point to primary sources.  Not least, you are familiar with books and articles and already know how to use them!

This guide lists some tips for finding both primary and secondary sources about IP topics.

Videos on how to search Nexis Uni and Hein Online are included.

You can make an research consultation appointment with me using the Book Now link.


 Books on Doing Legal Research

These are books typically used in courses on legal research methods. You DON'T have to read them in order to do a find research project, but depending on your topic checking out a relevant chapter may be helpful

Legal Research in a Nutshell

Principles of Legal Research

 Legal Research Databases

There are a number of legal research databases that are used by practicing attorneys and law students. We have access to Nexis Uni (formerly called Lexis/Nexis) and HeinOnline. We don't have access to the other top legal research services such as Westlaw or Bloomberg Law (note legal sources are not included with the Bloomberg terminals in Bartley or the Library). Nexis Uni has state law, federal law, law reviews, legal news, a legal encyclopedia and a few books. HeinOnline has federal law, law reviews, legislative histories, and international treaties.

  Nexis Uni  Limitations on Use


 Governmental IP Sites

U.S. Copyright Office
Provides access to laws, regulations, policies, rulemakings, judicial opinions (cases) and briefs related to copyright. Also offers database of registered copyrights and historical background on copyright.

United States Patent & Trademark Office
Provides background and links to laws, regulations, policies and procedures related to patents and trademarks. Also maintains databases of registered patents and trademarks.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
Provides access to IP laws and regulations of member states & IP treaties. Hosts patent and trademark (brand) databases. Includes decision making and policy papers.

Books & Encylopedias

Legal encyclopedias are a good way to get oriented to legal topics.  They describe the seminal or foundational sources of law and cite them, enabling you to retrieve the primary sources.  American Jurisprudence is a legal encyclopedia written for lawyers available on Nexis Uni.  WEX is a free authoritative legal encyclopedia.

Legal books (often called treatises) may do the same, but also explore particular facets of the law, conflicts between laws or present theories about how the law ought to develop or change.  Nimmer on Copyright is a multi volume work available on Nexis Uni.  Some other relevant ebooks on IP are listed here and you can find more by searching "books and media".  

The video shows how to find books on Nexis Uni.

You may use books in the Villanova Law Library onsite, but may not check them out.



  Copyright Law ebooks
Sample of ebooks on copyright in our collection. Search Books & Media for more.

  Patent Law ebooks
Here is a link to a sample of ebooks on patent law in our collection. To find others search "books and media".

  Trademark Law ebooks
Select ebook in our collection on Trademark law. Find others by searching "books and media".

  Books & Media


Blogs written by lawyers in private practice, university professors, or legal journalists are good sources for learning about new developments and cutting edge issues.  Luckily the ABA Journal maintains a list of quality legal blogs, called BLAWGS.

Law Reviews (Scholarly Articles)

Academic journals that cover legal topics are called law reviews.  Some law reviews are general in scope (publishing on all subjects) and some are devoted to specific practice areas.  Browsing subject specific law reviews may be a good way to find out about emerging & thorny legal issues.  Search across all types of law reviews once you've identified a topic of interest to get a more thorough picture of what has been written about your topic.

The videos demonstrate searching on HeinOnline and Nexis Uni.  

  Google Scholar
Many law reviews are included in Google Scholar. If you hit a paywall, search for the title on the library home page. The great benefit of Google Scholar is its easy to use search.


  Nexis Uni  Limitations on Use

Case Law

Case law or judicial opinions are the means for interpreting and determining precident for "what the law" is by jurisdiction (geo-political areas such as states or federal "circuits".)  Most, but not all, intellectual property law is federal.  The law may differ by jurisdiction, hence legal databases are designed to prompt the research to select a court of jurisdiction.

Nexis offers editorial enhancements such as headnotes (similar to the West key number system), and Shepards a service for finding case history and citing cases.  These tools in addition to focused searching by fields such as party names or summary or core terms, facilitate finding relevant legal opinions. 

Remember most legal disputes heard by courts simply result in decisions that are never reported.  Only cases of precedental value are published.

  Nexis Uni  Limitations on Use
Formerly known as LexisNexis Academic. Provides full text access to national and international newspaper and magazine articles and news transcripts, business, company, and industry information in the U.S. and abroad, and legal documents, including U.S. Federal and State court cases, and law reviews. Coverage varies.

  Google Scholar
Use the radio button to choose cases and if desired select the jurisdiction.

Statutes & Regulatory Materials

Because statutory language is very precise and specialized, without a strong legal vocabulary it is very difficult to search by keywords.  Following citations to statutes (legislation) and regulations (administrative rules) or browsing the table of contents of compilations is recommened.

The video demonstrates finding statues in Nexis Uni.


  Public Library of Law
Free access to public domain statutes and regulations for all 50 states and federal government. Typically editorial enhancements are lacking.

  Nexis Uni  Limitations on Use

Legal Citations

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation  Gives examples of how to cite different types of legal materials.

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations Translates legal abbreviations to their full source.  Helpful for "reading" legal citations.