Inventing a new way forward

Case study


Module 4: Developing Strategic Relationships: Partnerships and Fundraising


Topic 6: Partnerships


Library associations can play an important role in helping their members develop strategic relationships within their own communities. The case study outlines the work undertaken by members of the Patents and Trademark Depository Library Association (PTDLA) to run an annual InventorFest to promote the role and services of patent and trademark depository libraries. The partnerships developed between local library services and the relationships established with community organisations had a broad community impact.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. What role can a library association play in building partnerships?
  2. How might association roles grow and change over time?
  3. How can individual libraries benefit from specific information disseminated by associations?
  4. What are the benefits of forming community networks?
  5. How can these networks grow an association’s business and the business of its members?


The Patent and Trademark Depository Library Association (PTDLA) was formally established in 1983 under the original name of the Patent Depository Library Advisory Council, with an informal history extending back to 1871 when printed patents were first provided under depository arrangements to a small number of libraries in the United States. The PTDLA currently has an executive of President, Vice-President/President-Elect, Secretary and Treasurer, with 12 regional representatives ensuring geographic coverage across the United States and Puerto Rico. The principal aims of the association are discover and support the interests, needs, opinions and goals of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) and to liaise closely with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to ensure the planning and implementation of appropriate services to the PTDLs and their users. The association supports members through virtual networks and through annual Training Seminars held in Washington DC, providing opportunities for sharing activities and ideas. In addition, promotional activities about the work undertaken by PTDLs are presented each year at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference. The association supports the work of more than 80 individual PTDLs in their local communities, provides a context for collaborative strategic planning and coordinates a website to enable members to post resources that can be accessed and used by all. There is also a Fellowship Program that enables patent librarians to gain additional knowledge and expertise through a placement with the USPTO.


While the PTDLA is a national organisation, the grass roots activities of the association take place at the local level, generally organised by individual members. Each PTDL provides the public with free access to more than seven million US patents and about three million trademarks. Through the PTDLs, patent librarians provide search services to inventors, students, faculty, researchers, small businesses – basically to anyone who has an interest in using the business, legal, scientific or technical information contained in patent and trademark documents. In order to connect PTDLs with their user base, patent librarians need to continually promote their resources and services to the broader community of inventors and researchers. On occasion, members of the PTDLA will work collaboratively with inventor group organisations where more experienced inventors are able to share their expertise with new inventors and entrepreneurs.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is one of the PTDLs in the state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the hub of a wide area of around 2 million people, with a considerable range of industries and advanced research institutions in the region. The Metropolitan Statistical Area stretches into the Dayton area, which is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and has been a centre of aerospace research ‘since the Wright Brothers were nothing more than bicycle repairmen with an odd hobby’. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County plays an important role in linking researchers and inventors with patent information, for example: inventors to explore what has already been patented in their area; genealogists to locate inventions related to their family histories; students to study the history of invention and inventors; researchers to analyse the connection between patents and social history; and marketing firms to identify areas for new product development. For almost 60 years, the Library has had a strong working relationship with the Inventors’ Council of Cincinnati and hosts the organisation’s monthly meetings. This relationship has contributed to the PTDL staff having a very clear understanding of the users’ needs for patent and trademark resources.

In 2004, the PTDL staff sought to extend an already successful program of inventor-marketing programs. Participants wanted more programs where they could network with other inventors, talk to experts and listen to guest presentations on specific subjects. “When inventors get together to network, they tend to share success stories, as well as to inform each other about invention promotion firm scams and other questionable business-to-business services” (Schlipp, 2007). The library staff came up with the idea of an InventorFest.

Through the close professional networking arrangements of the PTDLA and the USPTO, it was agreed that there would be considerable value in partnering with the neighbouring PTDL in Dayton which is hosted by Wright State University (WSU). The planning activities were critical to the success of the event: in addition to the partnership with the WSU, a core committee was formed with representation from a number of library departments, including Government and Business, Science and Technology, Children’s Services and Teen’s Services. There was also a community committee with representatives from the Inventors’ Council, Cincinnati Regional Chamber and Cincinnati Recreation Commission. The Library’s public relations staff worked closely with the local public broadcasting service. The committees were able to establish a strong sense of ownership in the event on the part of the wider community, strengthening the linkages between all parties.

This collaborative approach to building networks to meet community needs has certainly contributed to the success of the InventorFest concept, especially through the marketing and promotion strategies designed to reach the different audiences of inventors, small business, publishers, university students, teachers, parents and teenagers. While forming new alliances, the committee did not lose sight of the traditional inventor audience. More intellectual property programs with keynote speakers and experts were run in the lead up to the InventorFest, which served to reinvigorate existing customers and attract new ones. The InventorFest itself is a three day event, which is hosted in Cincinnati one year and in Dayton the next year. The events are pitched at all levels, including Invention@Play for small children and the Teen American Inventor activities which have been linked to the libraries’ summer reading and video gaming programs. Family activities included interactive science displays, movies (Lemony Snicket) and ‘dress up as a famous inventor’ parades. For adults, there were guest speakers, author presentations and expert panel discussions with patent examiners, local attorneys and government representatives discussing the finer points of patents and trademarks. One level of the library became a trade exhibition, with 36 exhibitor booths promoting a range of different products and services for inventors. There were also professional development workshops for librarians interested in the field of patent searching. The event concluded with a program for musicians, Listen to This: The Music Business and More, to encourage people to learn more about music copyright issues.


The InventorFest and its related programmes have had a quantifiable impact on PTDL usage and services. The Inventor Council of Cincinnati saw growth in its membership and attendance at intellectual property programs also increased. The collaboration between the staff of the two PTDLs, the different departments of the public library and the various community partners accomplished productive outcomes that could not have been achieved independently. It can be argued that the partner linkages into the community extend the reach of library services and that the resources of the PTDL libraries contribute to the economic and cultural development locally by helping inventors and entrepreneurs adopt better research-driven business practices, by encouraging youth creativity and by educating the wider community about intellectual property issues. Events such as InventorFest can effectively build outreach support through community partnerships to strengthen relations between like-minded organisations and can help achieve the future growth and vitality of all stakeholders. Importantly, the successful strategies can be fed back into the PTDL association’s network so that other members can adopt and adapt the ideas to build partnerships within their immediate context.


  1. Does your association gather information from members about their successful outreach events and distribute the information to other members? What do you feel the value of such strategies might be?
  2. Does your association form partnerships with relevant government agencies that may assist your members in their fundraising events?
  3. In light of the success of the InventorFest, do you believe similar strategies might work for your association and its members?
  4. Who do you think benefitted most from the community collaboration in the InventorFest?
  5. Can you identify any other strategies that might have been employed to further contribute to the success of the PDTL activities?
  6. Has this case study changed your view of community outreach?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: United States
Region: North America
Agency: Patents and Trademark Depository Library Association (PTDLA)
Topic: Building coalition with other organisations
Keywords: outreach, public relations, partnerships, networks, community relationships, collaboration


Jenda, C.A. (2006). Patent and trademark depository libraries and the United States Patent and Trademark Office: A model for information dissemination. In W. Miller & R.M. Pellen (Eds., Libraries beyond their institutions: Partnerships that work (pp183-196). New York: Haworth Information Press.

Schlipp, J. (2007). Best practices and InventorFest: Community partners and Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs). Intellectual Property (IP) Journal of the PTDLA, 4(1). Available as an online resource from

Associations, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012