29 Apr Should you patent your app?
When I first got pregnant, I thought of starting an app related to pregnancy and motherhood care. I thought I had a groundbreaking idea and was one of the very first ones to step into an undiscovered niche. I plotted all the things. I had many questions in my mind about what type of app I wanted, whether it is android, custom or IOS app development. It was only after I did some research that I realized, there were countless apps related to motherhood already and I did not know about it because it hadn’t been relevant to my circumstances. Therefore, it is very likely that the unique ideas we have are actually not that unique. However, if anyone is lucky and brilliant enough to be able to conceive a unique idea that remains unexplored by the rest of the world, the question is, how long will it remain safe? A commonly asked question in the app market is, should one patent their app? How exactly can you patent your app and it is really worth it? In the blog, we will explain in great detail the various aspects of filing a patent for your app.
In the US, the legal system is designed to offer protection to people for their ideas and innovations. Intellectual property laws ensure safety for app ideas and designs. These laws include patent, trademark, and copyright laws. People are able to copyright their creative work such as artwork, literature, etc. However, in the case of an app a person/company looking to safeguard it from intellectual thieves and exploiters, they need to file a patent with the US Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO), which undergoes careful scrutinization before it is approved.
What does a patent for a Mobile App do?
A patent is a legal way of safeguarding your mobile application from people or companies from stealing your ideas. It offers protection to various aspects of your mobile application, such as, networking, data management (push, privacy, media), messaging, feedback, server processing etc. It is important to understand that one can not patent an entire app in itself, rather various aspects and features within the app. For instance, for a social media app one can patent features like the method for taking pictures, the design for capture/record button, the option available to react to an image, photography filters etc.
If a person/company chooses to patent their app, any party that imitates any aspect of the app is violating the law and is held legally responsible. The matter is taken up by legal authorities, often resulting in the stealing party paying financial consolation to the owners of the patent app. A patent legally authenticates the originality of an app’s idea. It is important to safeguard your app’s idea and its uniqueness to ensure nobody else is able to imitate it. Sometimes a person/company steals the idea for an app, recreates and markets it with a bigger budget which leads to more people recognizing the imitated version of the app rather than the original idea.
Things to ensure before you patent your app
There are billions of apps on online app stores but very few of them have been patented. A few potent factors are taken into consideration before an app is considered eligible for a patent.
A mobile app is eligible for a patent is it an innovative invention, targeted at solving a particular problem. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, an app is an invention if it is an original idea aimed at fixing an existing problem in a particular field such as retail, communication, healthcare, etc. The aspect of your app that you wish to patent must be identifiable as a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.
It is very important that the idea for your app must be original and non-obvious. The idea one wishes to patent must not be an evident fact for an ordinary person from the relevant field. It must also not exist already as a patent. The brilliance of an app is irrelevant if an idea has already been conceived and utilized.
A person/company must prove the usefulness of an app before aiming to patent it. The usefulness can be understood as the niche the app will cater to and how so. The app must be presented with a comprehensive justification for its functioning and the need of it.
Your step-by-step guide to filing a patent for your mobile app
- Seek legal counseling
If you are looking to patent your app, it is crucial to understand that you must seek professional, legal help before you discuss your ideas with any app developers, mobile app development company, marketers, or even friends and colleagues. One cannot simply go through the process of filing for a patent by themselves, just by researching the Internet. It is a tedious legal procedure and therefore, requires a professional to guide you through. A legal attorney will guide you through the process of filing a patent, taking you to step by step, elaborating on all the minute details in the process. It is essential that your legal attorney is experienced in the field of obtaining patents for software, specifically. You must do a detailed search before you find an attorney that fits your budget
- An extensive patent search
At this stage, you and your attorney will do a detailed patent search to ensure that there is no app similar to yours in terms of idea, functionality, or features that have already been patented somewhere in the world. You can log on to the USPTO’s official website and search for relevant keywords to see all patents pertinent to your app filed in the US. This is the most important part of the process because this is where you learn whether your brainchild is truly unique or not. Many people that wish to patent their apps resign the idea at this stage because somewhere in the world, there is an app like theirs that exists already.
- Choose the type of patent you wish to file
If you have made it through the prior exigent phase and your app qualifies for a patent, it is time for you to identify the type of patent you wish to choose.
● A Provisional Patent
A provisional patent allows one to test their app in the market for a certain period of time. A provisional patent, however, expires in one year, can not be revoked or extended. It is more suitable for applications depending on short-lived market trends. It allows displaying the term “Patent Pending” on an app. It also requires less cost and time.
● A Non-Provisional Patent
This is a traditional patent that has an extremely lengthy and costly legal procedure. It is accompanied by various legal documents along with a detailed written explanation justifying the originality, usefulness, and scope of your app.
- Submit your application and wait patiently
Once you have filed for a patent with USPTO, there is a long wait. It can take anything between 18 months to 6 years for a patent to be approved. The app industry is fast-paced and constantly evolving, often the wait for receiving a patent is so long that the idea no longer remains relevant by the time a patent is approved. Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook waited 6 years for his first patent application to be approved.
- If you are granted your patent, make it count!
If a patent is approved and your app’s idea is still relevant and promising, you must make the most of it. Receiving a patent for your app means that you have invested a great deal of time and money, therefore, you must work towards making your app the next big thing.
Is a patent really worth it?
Whether or not, a patent is really worth it, is a question only you can truly answer for your app. If you are absolutely certain of the brilliance, uniqueness and usability of your app and also have the financial resources and support, well, you can absolutely go for it. However, budget is a huge constraint for many people. If a small app owner is able to patent their app but the idea is later stolen by the big fish of the industry or any big mobile application development company, they will not have the resources to go after them. If the app owner is lucky, it may result in a minor under-the-table settlement between both parties.
There is a long, financially exhausting, and even unrewarding wait sometimes. It is advisable to discuss with someone who has gotten a patent for their app. A person with the first-hand experience can offer you a valid insight into the consequences of getting a software patent.
Patents sound great for people/companies with nine-figure budgets dedicated to their legal department. Small app entrepreneurs may have to really weigh the pros against the cons before getting one and seem as though finding a way to coexist and grow together is a more viable option instead of spending big money!