A Comprehensive Guide on How to Patent a Mobile Application

Saurabh Singh May 2, 2024
how to patent a mobile app

A good idea is like finding a pearl in the ocean – hard to come by but worth all effort.

This is more than appropriate when it comes to mobile applications. As the market is more competitive than ever, you need to have a disruptive app, potentially attracting more and more customers.

Now, it is natural to feel paranoid, and rightfully so, that someone else might claim that application by creating a similar one. 

Can something be done to avoid a miserable fate like this? Of course.

More often than not, people ask this question- “Can you patent an app concept”, to which the answer is yes, you can patent an app idea

Having your mobile application patented even before you officially disclose it in the market and to potential investors is something that can protect your project from being duplicated.

Let us now delve into the process of how to patent an idea for an app in detail.

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What is a Patent? 

What Rights Does Patent Grants Me

You must have probably heard about the phrase “patent” if you are willing to start your own business. The patent is simply an intellectual property that safeguards your app idea from illegal or non-consensual usage. 

Additionally, it prevents companies and individuals from changing or selling it by considering you as the sole owner of your app or app idea. Besides, a patented app will ensure that no one falsely claims the credit of your app idea in the wrong way or ruin it.

Why is Patenting Important?

It’s a simple fact that a smartphone application needs to be covered completely under legal protection. Also, the official patent offers the claimants to obtain compensation for any kind of violation of the current patent app law. Here are some of the reasons why patenting an app idea is crucial.

  1. Your patented app is mainly proof of the originality and uniqueness of your app idea.
  2. If you find any clone of your original application, you can legally accuse the individual or the company that has introduced it before. 
  3. No third party would be able to exploit your mobile app idea financially.

What are the Different Types of Patent Applications?

provisional or non-provisional patent application

Different types of applications should be considered for filing a patent for mobile apps or the idea to build the mobile app. In the long run, this can prove to be very helpful. The details about different types and forms of patent applications have been summarized below.

1. Provisional Application

A provisional application process is one of the most common and easiest ways to file a pattern application to protect your mobile app idea or the application itself. The provisional application is prevalent in most global economies and is widely used to safeguard creativity and innovation. Any kind of legal compliance is not required for such an application, and it is much more an informal way to guarantee the protection of your mobile application or mobile app idea. 

This application is extremely time-saving as the claimant does not need to get involved with any legal formalities and implications. You can file without any formal patent app declaration claim or distributor statement with the provisional application. It grants 12 months to develop and refine the prototype fully. Also, it allows you to utilize the term “patent pending” on the product. Compared to other applications, the provisional application incurs fewer expenses.

2. Non-Provisional Application

This is yet another form of application that ensures the protection of mobile app ideas or mobile applications. However, this is a complex process. Suppose a person is willing to file a non-provisional application to patent his or her mobile application or app idea. In that case, they must be very well-versed with the fact that this method would require a greater number of legal formalities and complications that must be compiled before getting access to the patent. 

A huge number of legal complications needs to be compiled very carefully. A single error can cause great pressure and disbalance in the process of getting a patent app. It is more time-consuming, and unlike the provisional application, it is expensive. This type of application must be accompanied by claims and specifications. Also, the non-provisional patent application should contain complete information about the invention or the app idea and at least one claim that would legally define the boundaries of the app idea or application utilization.

If you are confused about choosing the right type of application, then you need to ask yourself these questions first. 

  • For how long can you plan to delay the patent app examination cost?
  • How quickly do you want your patent app to be granted? 

In case you are unable to answer these questions, then you must avail the custom software development services of Appinventiv, whose experts can help you to determine what type of patent app protection would be the right one for your business.

Get Started

Steps to Patent a Mobile App

Steps to Patent a Mobile App

In this section, we will cover one of the most asked questions by newbies of mobile app development – “how to patent a mobile app?”.

1. Find and Enlist with a Patent Attorney

In order to present a well-formed high-end patent and to increase the chances of your patent application getting selected, you must consult with and hire a software patent lawyer, given they have relevant years of experience. 

Since it is a legal process and might include litigation, it is best to hire a professional than to try doing it by yourself. It is not advisable to go with the first attorney you come across. Do your research and look for the best under your budget.

2. Mobile App Invention Disclosure

“Having an idea is just work half done.”

To continue this quote, one must bring the idea into actuality (at least to some extent) to confirm its feasibility, something that is highly prominent as an eligibility criterion.

Since the court needs tangible proof of your invention to issue a patent against your application, you must make sure to document the whole development process. Also, you can create a prototype of your application to break down its flow. 

Mobile app invention disclosure

This will incredibly help your attorney figure out the flowchart of your application since it is not the code but the app’s functionality and processes that get patented.

This is great for figuring out the various implications of your application in different industries and gives you a new direction to think of what other elements in your mobile app are eligible for patenting.

Also read: Why Does Your Business Need A Mobile Application for Growth?

3. Practice Patent Search

Though you have done your homework, it is always advised to hire patent attorneys that conduct a worldwide search for applications similar to yours or have similar functionalities or flows, to avoid any unanticipated infringement from other companies.

Practice patent search

After all, it is better to spend a few bucks and ensure your patent has the most chances of getting sanctioned than to start from square one – all over again. You can do your research from the USPTO website.

4. File a Provisional or Non-Provisional Patent Application

There are two types of patent applications that you can use as your patent application for your mobile app – provisional and non-provisional patent applications (already explained above).

If you want your patent to be granted faster, then non-provisional is best suited for you. However, if you are in no hurry and need more time, then definitely provisional patent application, as it is never examined, as opposed to non-provisional.

5. Submit your Application

This is the final step in the process of how to patent a mobile app. Once you have successfully performed all the above steps and prepared a patent application, you must file it with the USPTO. Though this is a tedious process involving a lot of paperwork, you must see it through. Some of the important documents that you may require during the process are

  • Oath/Declaration
  • Specification
  • Entity Status Form
  • Information Disclosure Statement
  • Application Data Sheet (ADS)
  • Claims
  • (optional) Patent Cooperation Treaty (for International Filings)
  • Drawings
  • (optional) Application to Make Special
  • Fee Sheet
  • Cover Sheet

How do you Know if your Mobile App Idea is Eligible for Patenting?

Patent an app idea

For determining the eligibility of a mobile application patent, there are a few critical points that you need to consider:

1. Your App Idea Should be Unique and Brand New

Before you take your step towards developing an app, you ensure its viability in the market. If your app solves the problems of your users, then it doesn’t make it eligible for the patent. Your app must be completely new and unique and should not be copied from any other source. Also, you should not reveal your app idea in any public document or format, such as a website, book, article, or any other source.

2. Your App must Qualify to be Useful

It is very much essential to qualify your patent as useful. Your app should perform well both practically and theoretically. If your app is not useful enough, it is tough to get a patent. 

3. It Should be More of an Invention

Generally, patents are granted if the idea provides a solution to any issue. As per the World Intellectual Property Organization, patents are best for safeguarding inventions. 

Now that we have dealt with the steps to patent an idea and its eligibility criteria, let’s move to the requirements for patenting an app.

Let’s Start

What are the Requirements for Patenting a Mobile App?

The three prominent criteria on the basis of which your application will be reviewed are generally the same in all the countries. These are the same criteria that would answer how to patent an app.

  • This is the first criterion that you should tick off on the list. You cannot just patent an app idea. So, when filing a patent for an app, you have to mention all the important details and documentation of your project, from its code to the flow and functioning of the application, in favor of the fact that it is practical and useful. 

For instance, let’s take a mobile app patent example of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. In 2014, the supreme court initiated a two-step analysis.

The first step was to ensure whether the patent claim contained an abstract idea like a method of computation, algorithm, or another general principle. If it had, the procedure would move to the next step. If otherwise, the claim was considered potentially patentable, subject to the other two criteria.

In the second step, the court had to find out whether the patent claim added “something extra” to the abstract idea than what already exists. And might be considered an “inventive concept”. If it is negative, the idea would be deemed invalid.

  • The second criterion of how to get a patent for an app is to know whether the invention (application as you will) is novel (as in new) or not. It means the application should have something that is substantially unique and different. In the words of Angelo Firenze – 

Quote 1

So, you need to make sure that your idea has not been patented before by anyone, lest your request for a patent would be rejected, and you might be subjected to infringement. So, do your research. You can refer to the USPTO website or Google patents for inquiring purposes.

  • The third criterion, and rather the difficult one, is that the mobile app should be non-obvious. This means, that your project will not get sanctioned if it is just the integration or amalgamation of, but slightly modified, pre-existing technologies without possessing any unique trait or functionality.

Benefits of Patenting an App

Benefits of Patenting an App

By now, you have known all the nitty-gritty of patenting a mobile app. Let’s move on to discuss the two main benefits of patenting an app. 

1. Competitive Advantage

Creativity and innovation are the two main drivers for success in the app industry. In this case, filing a patent for your app idea or application can actually prevent your competitors from penetrating the market before you do. If you apply for a provisional patent for an app,

then from a technical standpoint, you can get your app labeled with “patent pending”. The professional patents you get in such cases have the original filing date. In this way, no other business can reproduce your app idea without your permission.

2. Digital Asset Protection

By patenting your mobile application, you can protect the digital assets that you have created or the one which is still in progress. Also another additional benefit that you get from patenting is that you can receive the damages, grievances, and compensations for the imitation or infringement of the app idea.

Cost of Patenting a Mobile App

Cost of Patenting a Mobile App

To answer the question of “How much does it cost to patent a mobile app?” we would say that it varies on types of the patent application you apply. You can refer to the USPTO listing to know more about specific costs, including every fee. More so, here are a few basic charges that you are required to pay while filing for an app patent application:

  • Elementary filing fee: $70-280+
  • Patent search fee: $150-600
  • Patent Examination fee: $180-700
  • 3.5-year maintenance fee: $400-1600 (involves keeping a granted patent valid)
  • 7.5-year maintenance fee: $900-3600
  • 11.5-year maintenance fee: $1850-7000+

For the sake of mentioning an amount, the app patent cost via provisional patent application can amount anywhere between $2000 to $5000, whereas, for a non-provisional patent, it ranges from $10,000 to $15,000.

Also Read: How much does it cost to make an app?

When Should you Patent your App or App Idea?

A patent is only granted to the person who first files it and not the person who first invented it. So, if you have a unique, world-changing, and non-obvious app or app idea, then it’s time that you quickly file for a non-provisional or provisional patent application. 

To further clarify this, let’s take a few conditions:

  • When your app is 100% unique and original and is technically ready for launch. 
  • When you have funds allocated for your intellectual property protection besides a separate fund for app development. 
  • When you have a prototype and your development team has already started working on the MVP

If you meet all these points, then you can directly go for applying for a patent

Save Patenting Hassles By Rapid Sofware Delivery

When Should you not Patent your App or App Idea?

Remember that a patent for an application is granted only to the apps that are unique and not inspired by any similar competitor’s applications in functionality and features. 

Here are a few conditions or situations when you should not go for patenting your app:

  • If your application is technically ready but is a recombinant innovation that shares the source code from an open-source code software program.
  • If your app is an advanced version of any existing product. 
  • If your app idea is still in the validation phase and your team is working on the financial, technical, and legal feasibility of your app. 
  • If your app idea is already validated and you are about to enter into the development phase with a limited budget allocated for support, testing, marketing, and maintenance.

How Much Time Does it Take to Patent a Mobile App?

How Much Time Does it Take to Patent a Mobile App?

Now that we have delved into the app patent cost and how to get a patent for an app, it is time to look into the time it would take to complete the entire process.

More often than not, applications get rejected and resubmissions are done over and over again. This back and forth process can last up to 4 to 6 years, based on the circumstances. In fact, it took 6 years for Mark Zuckerberg to get a patent for Facebook which was granted in 2012.

Why Patenting is Not for Every App Owner ?

Quote by Mark Cuban

While patenting is made to seem extremely necessary, it is not for every application. Let us highlight some of the issues that you should prepare for when thinking of taking the mobile app patent route.

1. Patents Tend to Block Crucial Resources

Startups must be aware of the blocking effects that patents carry on personal and company resources. These include

  • Cost – The price of filing patents averages $30,000 in 3 to 5 years range. This added to the legal costs can cripple the startups financially, bringing them under the red zone in the Profit and Loss statements.
  • Time – The process of obtaining a patent takes up a lot of time, which often ranges from several months to even years. Allocating this bandwidth calls for considerable time and energy away from the app idea execution.

2. The Protection is not Assured

The patent violation instances are very specific. Meaning, that even the most stringent agreement might not be able to provide the protection you might seek at the time of the breach. A number of brands face issues with rip-offs that make slight variations in the app to make it seemingly new – a patent will be little to no help in those cases.

3. Companies Tend to Pivot their Original Ideas to Perfection

It is very natural for a startup to change their goal and ideas. The problem that emerges is that patents only tend to protect the initial level inventions and not the following iterations. This means startups would have to refile for patents every time they pivot or simply update their application.

Bonus read: How to successfully run a startup in the mobile app industry?

The Alternatives to App Patents

1. Copyright

Mobile app copyright or patent is an age-old debate. Like patents, copyright is also a type of IPR but a little different though. If you are wondering how to copyright an idea for an app, then it is all about the collection of rights issues to the inventor or author of any work i.e., literary, artistic, educational, musical, or computer programs, and allowing them to publish or reproduce their work, make derivatives, etc., irrespective of whether it is published or unpublished.

It protects the expression of ideas and not the idea itself. So, in our case, you can copyright the app idea, app logo, and not the app itself, as it does not cover facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation.

2. Trademark

Patents prohibit others from making or selling the protected invention, whereas a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, logos, or other devices that are a source to identify the goods or services of the originator, preventing other competitors from using them. So, a trademark can be issued for the logo of your application to stop your competitors from copying it and creating confusion among the users.

3. NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

The NDA is a document that is signed by the entities you work with on your project, generally between you and your mobile app development company. It legally binds them to keep your app idea and technicalities confidential. This, in turn, protects the idea from being used by outsiders.

What does Appinventiv Recommend?

In our digital experience, we have overlooked the development and deployment of over 500 digital products but patenting helped with zero launches.

It is true that utility patents can help in some cases, but until and unless you have come up with an entirely new way of doing things or have come up with a new usage of device, it makes zero sense to block or drain your resources in that direction.

The tiresome process of getting a patent doesn’t just end up becoming a roadblock in the product-market fit but also slows down the agile development process.

Final Note

To conclude, yes, you can patent mobile applications (not just an idea, there should be tangible proof of the project). It also depends on your needs (as discussed above in the article) whether or rather when you should think of patenting your mobile application. In any case, app patent protection for your intellectual property is adamant as it protects your app against copying, unconsented usage, and more, for as long as 20 years.

FAQs

Q. Do you need to patent an app?

A. It totally depends on your needs. But it is advisable to patent your app idea safeguard your app against copying, unconsented usage, and more. 

Q. What are the requirements to qualify for a patent?

A. The three key points that qualify your application for patent are:

  • It has to be an invention
  • App idea must be unique and new
  • It must be qualified as unusual

Q. How much time does it take to get the app idea patent?

A. Generally, it takes 1-3 years to get the app idea patent. The patent application starts with the examination process and is broken down into different factors, such as specification, claims, abstract, and drawings.

Q. How much does it cost to patent an app idea?

A. The estimated cost for patenting a mobile app can cost you between $2,000 to $15,000.

Q. How to know if your app idea is already patented or not?

A. You can check this by easily logging into the USPTO website and searching appropriate keywords for all patents filed. 

Q. What information and documents do you require to file a patent?

A. After preparing your patent application, you need to get it filed with USPTO. The process might become tedious over the passage of time due to more paperwork. Since each document needs to be verified individually before finalizing, therefore you need to produce proper documents like Oath/ Declaration, Entity Status Form, Specification, Application Data Sheet (ADS), Information Disclosure Statement, Claims, and Cover Sheet.

Q. How do you create a patent for an app?

If you are looking for an answer on how to patent an idea for an app, then check the steps below:

  • Get software ownership
  • Research other apps
  • Find a software patent lawyer
  • Get a software app invention disclosure
  • Filing a provisional or non-provisional patent application

Q. Are apps patented or copyrighted?

A. An app can be patented because your software needs to be protected from getting exploited or copied. It is only proof of your app idea’s originality. However, if you are in a unique position of having each code written for your app by yourself, then you are in the right position to get it copyrighted. 

Q. How can I legally protect an app idea?

A. You can legally protect your app idea through copyright protection. To begin with the copyrighting process, you need first to sign an NDA, get your app’s name reserved, trademark your logo and document everything.

THE AUTHOR
Saurabh Singh
CEO & Director
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