HOW TO: Patent an App Idea

Inspire Visual By Inspire Visual
Published November 2020
FacebookLinkedInTwitterEmail

If you’ve got a great idea for an app, you’re probably worried about it getting to market before someone else with the same or similar idea comes first.

Developing an app can easily take 6 months or more, and during that time a lot of people can potentially take your idea and run with it, including friends, colleagues and competitors.

So, the question is can you patent your app idea and protect your intellectual property? In short, yes. We’ll explain how to protect an app idea and the steps to get an app patent.

Patenting an app idea can remove many risk factors.

Benefits of patenting an app

Now you know the answer to “can I patent an app” is yes, let’s go over the benefits. There are several.

First of all, while you are working on your app’s concept, you might bounce off ideas with various people. Like rings in the water, your concept can quickly travel further than you intended, especially if it’s a financially sound idea.

Second, when you are finally ready to develop the app, you’ll need either to hire your own team or an app development agency. In any case, more people will get involved and get access to all the research and ideas you have to present to have the app developed.

Third, even if you make it through concept and development and launch the app, there’s still the risk of copycats who can make their own version of your original app idea and make a negative impact on your app revenue.

Fourth, who’s to say someone else won’t claim you stole their idea and file a patent infringement lawsuit of their own? They might file a patent after taking your original idea and require you to withdraw your app, which could end up costing your entire business. It’s important to remember that patents are not given to the inventor necessarily but rather to the first person who register and receives the patent.

Once you patent your app, you will have a proven timeline and record in case any of these scenarios happen.

Can I patent an entire app?

While apps can be patented, you can’t patent an app as a whole. You can patent your app’s methods or processes for producing a useful, concrete, and tangible result. In other words: your app’s functionality.

You cannot patent the design (including logos, visual styles or icons); instead, those can either be trademarked or copyrighted.

The code behind an app falls under the copyright law which has nothing to do with patenting.

There are several benefits to obtaining a patent.

So how do you patent your app?

Before applying for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), do a search on their website to see if someone else has already patented the same app idea. There’s no reason to go through the rigorous process of patenting and developing your app if it already exists in the patent database.

If you don’t find similar ideas in the USPTO database, you can proceed with the patent process.

The three major patent requirements your app must meet.

These are the three major patent requirements.
  1. Your app must be an invention
    Your app’s functionality/process must be unique to solving its purpose. It cannot be similar to other already existing apps, but must have at least one unique differentiator.
  2. Your App Must Qualify as Nonobvious
    This means that someone skilled in your app’s field would view your app as an unexpected development.
  3. Your App Must be Useful
    Your app must solve a task and cannot just be an abstract idea. Your app must be described in detail of its entire functionality.

Generally getting a patent approved by the USPTO takes an average of 2 years, however apps can qualify for the non-provisional utility patents which grant approvals in as fast as six months. There’s also another alternative patent type we’ll get into below.

Filing for a patent

Before filing for the non-provisional utility patent, you should consider applying for the provisional patent. It is the most popular initial patent type for apps.

The provisional application is an easy and cost-effective way to establish an official patent filing date while avoiding the costs associated with filing a non-provisional patent application. It’s also a great way to measure your app’s success before filing for a non-provisional utility patent.

Once approved, the provisional application secures a temporary patent valid for 12-months. During this time, you can file for a non-provisional patent and keep the original filing date. You can also make use of the term “Patent Pending” in descriptions of your app.

The steps to file for a provisional patent are as follows:

  1. Search the USPTO patent databases to look for already existing similar patents.
  2. Compile a provisional application and include a cover sheet with the following information:
  • the application as a provisional application for patent;
  • the name(s) of all inventors;
  • inventor residence(s);
  • title of the invention;
  • name and registration number of attorney or agent and docket number (if applicable);
  • correspondence address; and
  • any U.S. Government agency that has a property interest in the application

You should also include:

  • background of the invention
  • wireframes or drawings of your app (optional, but highly suggested)
  • description of your app’s use and functionality
  • claims that are specific to prove novelty
  1. Submit your application either by mail or electronically using USPTO’s online patent application system and pay the filing fee.
  2. Wait for the patent examiner to respond. Patents are likely to be rejected on the first try. Make amendments based on the feedback and re-submit.
  3. Once your patent is approved you will receive a Notice of Allowance.
  4. Pay the issue fee.
  5. Your patent will now officially be issued.

Make sure everything you provide is as accurate, detailed and complete as possible. Amendments are not permitted in provisional applications, unless to make it comply with applicable regulations.

Provisional and non-provisional patent fees

You might be wondering how much does it cost to patent an app. The fee to apply for a provisional application changes, so check USPTO’s fee schedule for the latest cost. Currently the filing fee is $300 with a lower rate available for a small entity at $150 or $75 for a micro entity.

Once you are ready to apply for a non-provisional utility patent, you can apply for the Track One version. Track One is a prioritized version of the non-provisional utility patent and ideal for apps. The fee is currently $4,000 with lower rates available for small entities at $2,000 and micro entities at $1,000.

The app patent cost will go significantly up if you hire a lawyer, but a lawyer might be a good investment to be sure to get it right the first time.

It’s not uncommon to have back-and-forth communication between the patent examiner which can lengthen the approval time significantly.

A lawyer could help sort issues out before they get in front of the patent-examiner and save valuable time to protect your app idea.

Be sure to check the USPTO website for the updated fees.

Conclusion

Now you know how to patent an idea for an app, you can go ahead and get started. Filing for an app patent is undoubtedly a lot of work and can be costly, both time-wise and cost-wise, especially if you decide to hire a lawyer.

But if you believe in your app idea and don’t want to worry about your intellectual property, copycats profiting from your idea or the financial risk of an infringement lawsuit, getting a patent is definitely worth the cost and effort.

While we cannot help with the legal portioning of patenting your app, we can help build your mobile app once you’re ready. If you want to create your own app — whether it is for Android or iOS — we can help you. We have extensive experience with creating high-performing apps for both Android and iOS devices.

If you want to learn more about what it involves to build an app, be sure to check out this article explaining everything. And don’t forget to reach out to us for more help; we’d love to talk about your app idea.

We are an mobile app development agency and can help with your Android / iOS app.