Seattle Patent Group

Mar 21, 2024

An Introduction to Patents

Are you a natural problem solver? Have you ever seen something you thought of years ago making millions in the market? Do you know what to do to protect an item you’ve invented? If so, this article is for you.

An Introduction to Patents

A patent is a right granted by the United States Government to an inventor. The right is “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time. The Government grants this right in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.

Be careful that you don’t lose rights by talking to people about your invention! Just casually telling your brother-in-law can cause the loss of potential rights immediately in other countries and may even lead to a loss of rights in the US. Talk to a patent professional before talking to anyone else about your invention!

Business Benefits of Patents

Patents may provide many different benefits to a business, and different businesses may use patents differently over time.

Some potential uses include:

  • Preventing competitors from practicing your invention
  • Licensing your invention to obtain royalties
  • Cross-licensing technologies to partner with other companies
  • Build a strong portfolio to reduce the chance of getting sued by other companies
  • Identifying your invention as being patented, which may provide some marketing advantages

While this list is not exhaustive, it should illustrate that patents can be flexible tools in your business’s arsenal.

Types of Patents

There are three types of patents:

  • Utility
  • Design
  • Plant

Utility Patents

Utility patents are what most people think of when they hear the word “patent.” Utility patents may be granted for a “new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Utility patents protect the structural or utilitarian features of an invention.

Design Patents

Design patents are used for novel, non-obvious, ornamental designs of useful articles. Design patents may relate to the shape, configuration, or the surface ornamentation applied to an article of manufacture. A design patent does not protect the structural or utilitarian features of an invention, only the appearance. 

Plant Patents

Plant patents are available to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. Plant patents are granted for a period ending 20 years from the date of filing of the application.

Applying for a Utility Patent

A patent application is considered by some to be the most difficult form of legal writing. As the USPTO states, “A patent application is a complex legal document, best prepared by one trained to prepare such documents. Thus, after reviewing this guide, you may wish to consult with a registered patent attorney or agent.”

Provisional Application

A provisional application is a less expensive way to obtain a filing date for a patent; it is cheaper to get started, but more expensive in the long run. It does not move you toward getting a patent but may provide some business advantages over not filing an application at all. 


Once a provisional or non-provisional application is filed, you may mark your invention as “Patent Pending.” You are not permitted to mark patent pending until an application is filed; you may be fined for each item falsely marked. 

Patent Searching

Many people assume that a patent search is an important part of the process of filing a patent application. There are advantages and (potentially devastating) disadvantages to doing a search; it is important to understand the trade-offs before blindly searching for similar inventions.

Foreign Applications

Patents are country-specific; a US patent only protects your invention within the US. There is no such thing as an international patent, but thanks to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), you can apply for patents in multiple countries with one application. There are certain things you must do with your initial filing if you want to keep this option available, so it is good to talk to your patent attorney about what is required.

About Jim Haugen

Jim Haugen is a registered patent attorney and a founding principal of Seattle Patent Group. He has been working with intellectual property since 2006, specializing in patent preparation and prosecution in a wide variety of technical areas. Jim has over thirty years of experience in the design, implementation, and development of software, and spent over fourteen years at Microsoft, in various technical, management, and legal roles. Prior to working at Microsoft, Jim was the president of a Canadian software development and consulting company.

Much of his practice consists of serving businesses, ranging from “mom and pop” companies to those having more than $500 million in annual revenue. By learning about the business and operations of his clients, Jim can advise on intellectual property strategy, ensure optimal protection within a given budget, and provide analysis on infringement litigation.

With degrees in computer science, philosophy, and law, as well as experience as an entrepreneur, he brings a broad and dynamic perspective to intellectual property issues. He is licensed to practice in Washington and before the US Patent and Trademark Office. 


  • J.D., Seattle University School of Law 2010
  • B.S., Computer Science, Dalhousie University 1984
  • B.A., Philosophy, Dalhousie University 1982


  • USPTO, 2007
  • State of Washington, 2013

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