How to Patent an App Idea – The Only 10 Things You Need to Know

how to patent an app

Is that an excellent mobile app idea in your mind? Well, there are heavy chances that you are paranoid about someone copying or stealing your idea. And it is perfectly normal to think in this way as the competition is growing in all the industries. Mobile app development is no exception. Now you might be thinking about how to patent an app idea and how it is related to your idea right? Well, the answer to it is discussed here.

Original ideas are becoming rare, and once you find one, they should be executed so that no one can release an app before you do. Generally, the mobile app ideas that are innovative, attractive for the users, and disruptive are more likely to be the most famous and has more chances of being copied or stolen.

Are you thinking about a solution? Well, there is one way you can safeguard your original mobile app idea. Yes, it is intellectual property law. This law is for having patents, trademarks, and copyrights for your mobile app idea. Now you are thinking about whether you can patent your mobile app idea or not?

Well, the answer is simply yes. But here, we will elaborate this ” Yes,” into a guide that will tell you anything and everything that you need to know about how to patent an idea for an app. This post will give you comprehensive knowledge about patenting a mobile app, its steps, requirements, time, cost, and many more things. 

So, here are 10 things that you need to know about how to patent an app idea.

1. What is a Mobile Patent?

A patent is a word that you might have heard many times in daily life. Still, not many people know its actual meaning. A patent is a right granted to any individual/company who invented something to safeguard it from anyone who wants to copy, sell, or steal their product or idea by giving them full control to protect their product or idea.

This similar thing applies to mobile application ideas. A mobile patent is something that you can get if you think your app idea is original and disruptive, and there are chances that people might steal or copy your idea. 

A mobile patent is a part of the Intellectual property rights of the World Intellectual Property Organization. If you are patent an app idea, you are given the right to protect your app idea, and your consent will be required if anyone wants to use it. 

So, a mobile patent is an intellectual property law that, 

  • Protects your app idea from non-consensual use
  • Restricts any company/individual from selling it or using it
  • No one except you can claim profits or credits for your app idea

Typically, there are two types of patents that can be applied to mobile app ideas. They are,

  • Utility Patents are the most common ones. They are granted to processes and machines by statutory law.
  • Design Patents are for the protection of any kind of unique design of various manufactured objects. 

For example, Apple had objected in 1994 that Microsoft had stolen their GUI idea. But the verdict was in favor of Microsoft as Apple had no patent filed for their GUI idea. So, better late than never. If you are confident about your app idea’s originality, you can get it patented immediately. 

2. Why Should You Patent Your Mobile App Idea?

If you have any unique mobile app idea, it is in your best interest to get it patented as there are chances that it might be copied or someone might get it before you do. Another thing that needs to be considered is that you can use laws to compensate anyone who uses your idea if you have an official patent.

Few other reasons can make you feel the need to patent an app idea, viz. 

  • Safeguarding your idea from getting exploited  financially by unauthorized people
  • Allows you to take legal action against anyone releasing a clone of your app before or after you launch your app. 
  • There’s no need to fall into any legal jumbles unless you have the patent as proof of your idea.

3. Which are the Aspects of Your Mobile App That You Can Patent?

Now, you might still be confused about the entire mobile app patent aspects, right? Okay, so now let’s get started by understanding your mobile app’s elements that you can patent. Yes, it is not necessary to patent the whole app. You can even patent certain parts of your app. Some of them are, 

  • Data privacy mechanisms
  • Third-party mobile payments, transactions, server involvements, etc.
  • Various networking aspects
  • User authentication, security, and identity management
  • Data pushing, storage, and database management
  • Interaction between mobile phones and with server
  • Server and mobile interaction processing
  • Displaying content to users

4. Patent Rights for Mobile App

Depending on different countries, there are various patent rights for mobile apps and softwares. You need to explore the details about how to patent an idea for an app for any particular country to protect your idea. Here are some of the countries that have their own patent rights for mobile apps. 

  • USA
  • India
  • UK
  • Australia
  • Canada

5. Check if Your App Idea is Already Patented or Not

You can never be under the wrong impression that your app idea is 100% unique and innovative unless and until you find proof for it. As there are millions of people out there, who are entrepreneurs or enthusiasts who are dedicatedly working to find unique app ideas. There are chances that they might have already registered the app idea you are thinking about right now. 

The best way to clear the confusion is to check whether your app idea is already patented by anyone or not. You have to check your mobile app idea in the list of existing and pending patents. You need to do extensive research for this; otherwise, you might be under the wrong impression and end up with a legal case on yourself.

Read This: Top Mobile App Development Software 2021

In whichever country you belong to, they will have a functional database with a detailed list of all the patents that are already listed or pending. You can check for your app idea in that. 

For instance, if you are a citizen of the USA, then you can check in USPTO. Just go to the database and search for your app from the stored information. In case you want to go for international patents, you can check through the IPC Catchword Index by WIPO.

Now, there is no need to get low if your app idea is already patented by someone else. Your task is to study the existing patent in detail and figure out what different you can do. Just don’t lose hope, as there may be plenty of ways in which you can make changes to the existing patent or make it better with your innovative idea. 

6. Requirements to Patent an App

Getting a patent for your mobile app idea is not something you can do for each mobile app development or any random idea. There are specific eligibility criteria for being able to get a patent for your mobile application. Be it the USA, the UK, or any other country, each has its requirements and should be abided by strictly. 

There are three main requirements that you need to meet to patent your mobile app idea. Let’s understand them in detail. 

1. Your mobile app should be an invention

Patents are meant to preserve or safeguard only the inventions. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, a patent is provided only if the mobile app idea is unique and solves some problems. 

A mobile app idea is considered an invention as it is not a physical invention, but it solves specific problems and is possible. The patent application must include proof for the claimed invention. Otherwise, there is no meaning in giving a patent. If everything looks good, then the patent application is moved to the next step. In the next step, it is assured that the claim is feasible and innovative, only then the patent is applicable. 

2. Your mobile app should be useful and qualified

This is quite a tricky criteria to achieve. You need to make sure that your idea is not something that can be achieved by mere integration or combination of existing apps. Even if it’s just a slight modification, it cannot be considered an invention and cannot be patented. 

If you want to patent your mobile app idea, then you need to make sure that your app is useful in some fruitful way. Just some app ideas for entertainment purposes will not qualify for patenting. It should also mention the concrete reason or solution of a real issue.

3. Your app idea should be something new and unique

Even if your app idea qualifies the above two requirements, if it is not original and unique, it is not eligible for a patent. Even if it solves any or many user issues, it will not get patented if it already exists in any form. 

The mobile app idea should be original, should not have been patented before, or publicly launched in any form such as video, audio, ebook, pending patents, YouTube videos, articles, or any other sources. 

7. Types of Patenting Applications

There are basically two types of patent applications. Depending upon your idea, its originality, market size, and app’s solution space. Let’s understand what provisional and non-provisional patent applications are,

Provisional Patent Application

This is one of the most common patent application types for mobile app ideas. In this, you get to file a patent without any formal application, data declaration statement, or even a declaration. This method is mostly used by mobile app development companies when they begin the patenting process. 

Some of the benefits of selecting provisional applications for patenting your mobile app idea. 

  • It grants 12 months to refine, develop, and modify your mobile app idea to create an MVP
  • Allows you to boast about your mobile app idea officially  as “patent pending.”
  • Get international patents by filing applications and claim the priority in twelve months.
  • With this application type, you have to bear fewer expenses as compared to a non-provisional application.

Non-provisional Patent Application

These applications are different and can be filed without reference resembling the work in your native country. With this method, you can apply without any type of claim imposed on the application created in convention nation or reference to any app already in procedure in the office. 

These applications must be accompanied by a detailed description of the specifications, total claim, and a written inventor’s description stating the legality of the invention. As compared to the provisional application, this application type is a tad bit costlier. 

8. How to Patent an App Idea? (Steps to Patent an App)

Now, it’s time to discover the steps to patent a mobile app for those who are new in this field. The steps are quite simple if you are already familiar with the concept of patenting a mobile app, its requirements, and all the laws associated with it.

Generally, the mobile app development company that you have approached for getting your app developed will guide you through the entire process of patenting your mobile app. 

This small guide will give you a comprehensive view of the entire process of getting your mobile app idea, step-by-step. Let’s begin, 

1. Search and Register with a Patent Attorney

Once you are done with complete ownership and inventorship of your mobile app idea and have researched all the existing similar mobile apps in the market, it’s time to get a suitable patent attorney. This process is quite essential, and you cannot hire the first attorney that comes your way or pops up in the google search.

This process needs you to search extensively and decide upon a patent attorney that can smoothly guide you through the legal procedures. The sole reason being that you are not aware of all the legal terms, processes, and laws. So, the patent attorney you hire needs to be competent enough and an all-rounder to make the process easier. 

A few things that you need to consider while searching for a patent attorney are, 

  • The attorney or the law firm should be legit with a degree and make sure you don’t run into an agent, patent engineer, or fraud.
  • Your initial consultation with the attorney must blow off your socks with his questions and knowledge.
  • Don’t go for a general patent attorney, instead choose one that specializes in software patenting.
  • If you get a clear and realistic expectation in the first meeting itself, then that attorney is perfect for you.
  • Choose a proactive and responsive attorney as communication is the only key.
  • Fee- You need to make economic matters clear before you start any kind of work. If you are not comfortable with the charges of the patent attorney, then you should not move forward with him/her.
  • Don’t rush for invention disclosure as it is the most important thing. There is a set process for invention disclosure, and it has to be documented. So you need to perform it only after you are satisfied with the knowledge and competence of the attorney.

2. Disclosure of Your Mobile App Invention

Getting a disruptive mobile app idea was only half work done, and the next half is yet to start. After getting a competent patent attorney, it’s now time to disclose your mobile app invention, and it is quite crucial. 

If you want to get your patent approved by the court, you need to show them that it is feasible, realistic, and something that falls entirely in the eligibility criteria. To give the court tangible proof of your invention, you need to document the entire development process, including flow charts, or even create a prototype if you need to support your idea.

For getting more information on prototyping, you can check out, How to Prototype a Mobile Application to Impress Investors?

Another thing that you need to understand is that the development code or process is not essential. The thing that gets patented is the functionality that your mobile app idea offers. 

Building a proper flowchart of your mobile app idea can ease things for the patent attorney. You can provide him with a detailed flowchart to understand the exact functionality that is offered and its details. This flowchart must portray the entire functional flow of the information, processes, and data. 

3. Exercise Patent Search

Although you might have done your research for similar mobile apps and patents completely, the one that an attorney performs is professional and much-needed. So, the next step after hiring a patent attorney and disclosure of your mobile app idea, it’s time for exercising a proper and deep patent search.

While performing the patent search, your attorney looks for applications with similar functionality or flows worldwide to avoid any issues later on from any individual or organization. This patent search will ensure that your patent gets approved quickly.

You also need to support your attorney by giving him or her the research list that you prepared. It should comprise all the apps with even a single similar functionality. Some of the steps for performing a patent search are,

  • Firstly research thoroughly about the patent search process and its do’s and don’ts to ensure that your goal is fulfilled with it
  • Ensure that your patent attorney is utterly aware of your invention to carry out an extensive patent search. So, ensure that invention disclosure is on-point
  • Finalize on a few key features of your invention to search for in other apps that can act as core functions
  • Start with a broad search and try to include as many parameters, phrases, keywords, etc., as you can. Use different languages, patent search engines, etc., to carry out a broad search.
  • Finalize on classification and then carry out a systematic search with a patent classification that can provide you relevant information
  • Initially, you can go for Google Patent Search, but you need to ensure that non-google searches are carried out to get perfect results.

4. Patent Application Filing(Provisional or Non-provisional)

Filing a provisional or non-provisional patent application solely depends on the type of invention, market size, solution space, etc. Many other aspects lead to deciding whether you want to go for filing a provisional or non-provisional application.

Suppose your priority is faster time to market. In that case, you should go for filing a non-provisional patent application as it takes relatively less time to be granted by the concerned authorities. 

Let’s have a look at the process of filing both types of applications,

Provisional Application

By filing a provisional application, you can secure a patent filing date. Plus, it is cheaper as compared to the non-provisional application filing and requires much less effort. Things you need to provide include, 

  • A detailed description of your application
  • Drawings and flowcharts to avoid any ambiguity

With this type of application, you can secure a filing date, and you can get a year to research and find out whether your mobile app will be successful or not. In the patent filing, “first to file” is essential and so securing a filing date is a win-win, although with a pending status. 

Non-provisional Application

Within a year of filing a non-provisional application, you need to file for a non-provisional or regular application, or else you will lose your filing date. The steps to file a non-provisional application are,

1. Specification

These are used to demonstrate your mobile app idea’s uniqueness. Make sure that specifications are precise enough for anyone to understand the novelty of your application. The specifications consist of a crisp and accurate title, a Background that provides the context of your invention with supporting theories, a Summary that gives an overview of your application, and a thorough Description.

2. Claims

This is the most controversial part of the process and needs to be on-point. You have to clearly state the aspects of your mobile app idea that you are legally claiming ownership of. You cannot claim something that belongs to someone else already or even if a part of it belongs to someone else. 

3. Drawings

If your application has any visual interfaces, then you should provide supporting drawings. Just refer to any similar patents filed before for any kind of query in adding drawings or figures. You need to add the visual representation in drawings, figures, or flowcharts to support the app idea and avoid any confusion. 

5. Submit Your Patent Application

Now, the essential part of the entire process is here. Submitting your patent application is the final and crucial step of filing a patent application. Now that you have performed all the above steps correctly, you have to apply. 

A quick heads up beforehand, this process is totally paperwork and highly tedious. But you don’t have any option rather than doing it with complete concentration. Here’s a list of all the documents that you need to prepare with your patent attorney for your filing process before you finally submit your application. 

  1. Declaration/Oath
  2. Information Disclosure Statement
  3. Cover Sheet
  4. Specification
  5. Claims
  6. Drawings
  7. Application to Make Special (Optional)
  8. Patent Cooperation Treaty (For International Filings)(Optional)
  9. Fee Sheet
  10. Entity Status Form
  11. Application Data Sheet 

9. How Much Does it Cost of Patenting an App Idea?

The app patent cost varies with respect to many aspects such as type of invention, patent category, etc. Generally, if you just need a number, then a provisional patent application costs anywhere between $2000 to $5000, and a non-provisional application costs in the range of $10,000 to $15,000. To get details about all the fees and even the smallest charges, you can check USPTO.

To get an overview, here are some of the basic and mandatory charges that you need to pay while filing a patent. 

  • $180-$700 for patent examination
  • $70-$280 is the elementary filing fee
  • $150-600 for patent search
  • Maintenance Fee: 
    • 3-5 years keeping the granted patent valid: $400-$1600
    • 7.5 years keeping the granted patent valid: $900-3600
    • 11.5-years keeping the granted patent valid: $1850-7000+

Along with these, there are fees for patent cooperation treaty as well on national and international levels. There are fees paid to the foreign offices as well. You can even have a trademark, but it costs extra. 

Read This: A Comprehensive Guide To Mobile App Development Costs

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

After going through all the steps extensively and even calculating the cost, you might be wondering about the time that might be taken for the application to be approved. Well, honestly it takes time, a lot of time. 

Depending on the number of revisions and rejections, the time taken to patent a mobile app varies. For instance, Facebook was patented after 6 years. Yes, it took Mark Zuckerberg to wait for 6 years to get a patent for this social media giant. 

So, you can say, it can take around 4-6 years for your mobile app idea to get a patent. And that too depends on how many times the application is rejected or how many resubmissions you do. File an application, keep everything perfect, and then fingers crossed to wait for it to get approved. 

Patenting is Not For Everyone

If you are thinking about patenting each and every application or any idea that pops up in your mind, then it’s suggested that you should think about it again as it’s not feasible. There is n number of factors that you need to consider before getting a patent. And obviously, by now you are aware of most of them. 

To elaborate, there are certain issues that you need to consider when you think about getting your mobile app or idea patented. Let’s have a look at some of the major issues, 

  • Crucial resources are blocked

When you are thinking of applying for a patent, you need to first evaluate the pros and cons. In this process, you are gambling your two best and most crucial resources, cost and time. The money that you spend in getting an app patented is a minimum of $30,000 and that too excluding legal costs. Now imagine the situation if you could use that amount in executing app ideas more efficiently or even for bearing other expenses.

And the similar thing applies to time. The time is taken for a patent application to get prepared, and then approved might take many years, and that even rework for resubmissions. Now, what if you use that time to add something more innovative to your app or even come up with better ideas? Anything is possible. 

So, it is not advisable for startups to blindly run for getting a patent as their crucial resources can be blocked for a longer period of time.

  • Protection is at a huge risk

You are filing a patent to give your app or idea, or any of its functionalities protection. But there is a huge chance that it might not happen. Even the slightest disagreement might steal the protection away from you or someone might make a minor change and make it as a new application. 

In such cases, there will be nothing in your hand, and all the efforts that you put in might go in vain as filing a patent might not have any meaning. 

  • Over time the ideas transform to a great extend

One thing that needs to be understood before filing a patent application is that a patent only supports or protects the initial level of the invention or the first version of any application. Now, in the current scenario, there are numerous changes, updates, and advancements in any application keeping the changing situations in mind.

Read This: Find investors for your mobile app development idea.

If anyone applies for a patent for the initial level of any mobile application, then they have to refile the application even if they make the slightest change to the application or even update it. So, it is up to you now whether you think that your mobile app idea is good and disruptive enough to take all the pain and spend money or not. 

Bonus: Alternatives to Mobile App Patents

Enough about getting a patent for your mobile app idea. Now that you are aware of the checks and requirements of getting a patent, does it even come to your mind that are there any alternatives to protect your mobile app? Yes, there are many ways to protect your idea.

Let’s discuss some of the ways to protect your mobile app idea, 

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement

When you are hiring any employee or getting work done by any third-party companies or even freelancers, you have to make sure that they sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). By doing this, you can ensure that any data or even the smallest of information is not leaked or shared with anyone outside the organization. And if they do so then they have to face a lawsuit for violation of the agreement. An NDA binds your employees or even a mobile app development company that you have hired to keep the technicalities confidential. 

  • Copyright

Copyright is a slightly tough term to understand. Firstly, you need to understand that copyright does not protect an idea, but the expression of that idea. In simple terms, copyright is a set of rights that are given to any author, or inventor to protect their work. This work can be literature, art, education, etc. In our case, you can get a copyright for protecting your application’s code and user interface design. But, the catch here is that you can only exercise it if someone copies your app. For instance, you can copyright your app’s design, or logo and not the entire application. 

  • Trademark

Trademarks are used for the protection of any brand’s identity or image. You can trademark your brand’s logo, ads, etc. In layman’s terms, a trademark prevents anyone from using your brand’s words, phrases, logo, or anything that can identify your brand. So, in our case, for mobile apps, you can trademark your apps’ logo, designs, titles, ads, catalogs, etc., to prevent the competitors from copying them. Compared to a patent, which prevents anyone from creating or selling your invention, a trademark just protects your brand’s image. 

  • Non-Compete Agreement

This one is exclusively for your employees, and it is apt for our scenario of safeguarding a mobile app idea. You can get a non-compete agreement signed by your developers to interdict them from working with your competitors during their employment with you and a pre-decided period after their employment period ends at your organization. This can ensure that any of your company’s confidential information is not shared straightaway with your competitors, and in any case of violation of this agreement, the guilty employee shall face legal consequences. 

Our Opinion on How to Patent an App

As every coin has two sides, getting a patent for your mobile app also has pros and cons. On the one hand, you are protecting your app idea from being stolen or copied, and on the other hand, it asks for too much hard work. So, OpenXcell suggests that you should not waste your crucial resources such as time and money unnecessarily unless you are sure that your app idea is unique, disruptive, and is an entirely new solution to any existing problem. The process of filing a patent application for a mobile app is quite tiring and demands hard work. If you want to discuss further filing a patent or whether you should file or not, feel free to ping us, and our experts will guide you through the process. 

FAQ for How to Patent an App Idea?

How do I patent an idea for an app?

To patent an app idea, you need to follow a few steps enlisted here, 

  • Search and Register with a Patent Attorney
  • Disclosure of Your Mobile App Invention
  • Exercise Patent Search
  • Patent Application Filing(provisional or non-provisional)
  • Submit Your Patent Application

Can you patent an app concept?

Yes, you can patent your app concept. It is advisable to patent your app idea even before the app is developed. And you can disclose it after developing the application. 

How much does it cost to patent an app idea?

If you are filing a provisional patent application then it will cost anything around $2000 to $5000, and a non-provisional application costs in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.

Is it worth getting a patent for an app?

No, there is no need to patent an app. You can get patents for only the unique features that you are offering to solve existing issues. And honestly, there is no need to file a patent if you are not ready to block your resources such as time and money. 

How do I get a free patent?

There is only one chance that you can get a free patent. If you are sure that you are eligible for any special consideration for a waiver of application and patent fees, then you can apply for a Petition to Make Special.

How do I protect an idea without a patent?

There are many other ways in which your app idea can be protected other than patents. It includes trademark, copyrights, records, Non-Disclosure Agreements, Non-Compete Agreements, and so on. 

Can an app developer steal your idea?

Yes, not only app developers but anyone even slightly related to your mobile application development process can steal it even if they get the slightest idea about its uniqueness. This includes designers, business analysts, developers, etc.

What aspects of an app can be patented?

Out of many aspects, some of the major aspects that can be patented are, 

  • Data privacy mechanisms
  • Third-party mobile payments, transactions, server involvements, etc.
  • Various networking aspects
  • User authentication, security, and identity management
  • Data pushing, storage, and database management
  • Interaction between mobile phones and with server
  • Server and mobile interaction processing
  • Displaying content to users

How to check whether your app idea is already patented or not?

There are many easy ways to check whether someone has already filed a patent for your idea. Just go to the patent directory of your respective country and search for appropriate keywords and you will get an entire list of patents relevant to your keyword. 

Do I have to prototype before getting a patent?

No, a prototype is not required for applying for a patent. At least not for getting a patent for your logo or mobile app design, or any specific feature.  

What are the types of patent applications?

There are basically two types of patent applications, provisional and non-provisional applications. Provisional applications can be filed when you want to secure a filing date and you are looking for a cheaper option. Whereas non-provisional applications must be filed within a year of filing a provisional application or else the filing date will be lost.

How long is a patent valid?

Usually, a patent is valid for 20 years from the data it is granted. But you need to pay the fees periodically. And for design patents, the duration is of 14 years. 

How much time does it take to get a patent approved?

It can take from months to years for your patent to get approved. It solely depends on the number of resubmissions that you go over and over. But, approximately, it takes around 4-6 years for any patent to get approved.

Can you sell an idea to a company without a patent?

Yes, you can sell an idea to a company even without a patent. But, then you have to sign an NDA and if they don’t agree to sign it, then you should at least file a provisional patent application. 

Is it mandatory to hire a patent attorney for filing a patent?

Yes, it is mandatory to hire a patent attorney, as you might not be aware of all the laws and regulations related to patent filing and the slightest mistake can lead to a huge loss. A patent attorney has the knowledge and experience to file a patent application for your mobile app idea.

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WRITTEN BY Bhoomi Ramanandi

Bhoomi Ramanandi is a Content Writer who is working at OpenXcell. With an IT background and more than 6 years of experience in the writing field, she loves learning new technologies and creating useful content about them. She loves pens and paper as much as she loves pan and pepper. Give her any latest technology or any recipe, she is always up for it.

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