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How to Patent an App in 3 Easy Steps

Jacek Knaflewski

10/09/2018 6 min read

Surprising Paths of Idea

Did you know that the electric motor was invented about the same time in England, France, Germany, Italy and the USA? Each inventor believed that he was the one who deserved the reward for the revelation.

Electromagnetic induction was discovered by Michael Faraday in England in 1831, and independently about the same time by Joseph Henry in the USA.

There is a reason to believe that today is no different. When it comes to the “idea”, scientists are more and more likely not to talk about outstanding individuals, but “parallel minds” and the concept introduced by sociologist Robert K. Merton called “multiples”.

Good ideas happen more often than we can think. Especially nowadays, when millions of people all over the world are constantly exchanging information.

In fact, such stories still happen today. In 2015, the Nobel Prize in Physics was shared by Takaaki Kajita from Japan and Arthur B. McDonald from Canada, who proved in their autonomous studies that neutrinos have mass. After all, each one of them is a part of the history.

But school textbooks are one thing, and today’s business is another.

Why am I writing about inventions? Because not everyone benefits from them. And it’s time what decides who is to be considered the founder of an idea. The same goes for the mobile app development or any invention in the IT world.

Did you know that in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray independently filled patent applications for the invention of the telephone on the same day? But it’s Bell who is remembered by everyone. Speaking of patents and mobile apps you may ask…

Can You Patent a Mobile App?

Yes.

Should You Do This?

It depends.

The Differences Between a Patent and a Copyright

The cornerstone of everything in both cases is an idea. Yet, the difference is due to what is covered by legal protection.

Patents cover inventions (e.g. processes, machines, and compositions of matter). Copyright, on the other hand, mostly covers creative works that are written or recorded (including books, songs, films and computer software).

Both gives the owner the exclusive right to use and benefit from an invention. However, copyright infringement only occurs when someone intentionally copies a protected work. In the case of a patent, even if someone else discovers a patented idea independently, they can be sued in court.

Copyright is granted irrevocably from the moment something is created. It is not the case with the patent which needs to be obtained.

Most types of innovation are eligible for copyright or patent protection, but not both. A software can be an important exception. Due to the rapid development of the IT industry and a large number of applications, the offices attach great importance to the processing of applications in this area.

The Road to a Patent

Patent – What Is It and How It Applies to Mobile Apps?

Since Apple App Store first opened in July 2008, Google Play and Samsung Appsung Apps, have been growing rapidly. Today, developers of mobile apps have been using patents for years and nothing seems that this will change.

A patent is an absolute subjective right, granting the holder the right to exclusive use of an invention in a commercial or professional manner throughout the specified territory and time.

From a patent point of view, mobile applications are no different from other software in terms of eligibility and patentability,

Ready to patent your app?

Step 1: Check Before You Start

First of all, check whether someone else has patented the same type of innovation. In the UK, the Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (often The IPO) and in the USA, it’s the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), deal with this.

Patent offices usually recommend that you search for similar patents before filing an application. You can make sure by searching for keywords for your application ideas.

Remember that even if you are granted a patent, you may still be sued for infringing other patents. It is true that the office is trying to check and establish whether a new patent violates others, but it cannot guarantee this.

Step 2: Meet 3 Main Criteria

Although patent rights vary from one country to another, some assumptions about the granting of patents are mostly the same.

The patent office will draw attention to the three aspects mentioned above by answering questions:

1. Is your idea intended for industrial use?

The idea must be presented in a material way, achievable through the production process. This means that solutions that can be repeated if you follow the guidelines of the inventor are suitable for industrial use.

It is not about the industrial production of course. The key issue for software applications to qualify for patenting is whether the authorities and courts consider your “invention” to be an “abstract idea”. Simply put, it is not an algorithm, a calculation method or a general rule. The second step is to determine whether the patent suggested has “something additional” in the area concerned and whether it has an “inventive concept”.

Remember: you can’t just patent an “idea”. The patent must specify in detail how the application will work. Therefore, mathematical formulas and laws of nature cannot be patented.

2. Does it meet the criterion of novelty?

Innovation means ‘new’, which means that nothing exactly like it has existed before. Your application must qualify as “innovative”. This means that it must be different from all previous inventions in at least one component. This difference must have consequences. You cannot patent either something that has already been put on the market or using a method that someone else has published.

Remember: check whether your patent has been filed within one year (in the USA) of the first public disclosure of the invention by the inventor.

3. Is your idea not obvious?

An invention has an inventive step if it is not obvious to the expert that it is state-of-the-art.

It may be a bit confusing. Is your idea something more inventive than what would be obvious to someone who specialized in a particular field of technology at the time of filing a patent application.

A patent application may be rejected if it manifests in a combination of pre-existing inventions or if it is a variation of one or more pre-existing inventions. For example, if part of an invention copies an existing functionality of the first application and the rest of the invention copies an existing functionality of the second application.

Remember: ‘not obvious’ means that someone who has skills in a particular field would still see it as an unexpected development.

Step 3: Apply for a Patent for your App!

A Good Idea to Start With

Good idea is to file a provisional patent application for a utility mobile application around the start date. Then you can use the year in which the interim application is ‘pending’ to assess whether the market response is sufficiently favorable to file a regular patent application.

This allows you to minimize initial costs while retaining the ability to patent applications later.

However, such an application still requires a very detailed description of the application.

Applying For a Strong Patent

Once you have checked the requirements for a patent and met the formal requirements, the application must be supplemented by:

  1. Specification – It explains what distinguishes your application from others. Remember: keep it very accurate and descriptive. It must also contain the ‘best way’ of developing it.
  2. Claims – It should define clearly which aspects of the application are your legal property. This is a very important aspect by which most applications are rejected.
  3. Visualizations – Precise drawings and descriptions were needed in the past. Today, they will be of use in the graphic form.

It is a good idea to get more information from the relevant office in order to formalize the application. However, be prepared for a long process that takes years and is quite expensive.

The end of one road is the beginning of another

There is no doubt that getting a patent is a great deal of work. Is it worth it? Or are copyrights, licenses or design registrations enough? This depends on how innovative your application is.

Did you know that the thermometer invented at least 6 people about the same time, and the telescope not less than 9?

Have an excellent idea? Most probably you are not the only one having it right now! Don’t wait for someone to use it before you!

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Jacek Knaflewski
CEO of ITgenerator, deeply passionate about helping companies transform their businesses through modern technologies.


Also published on Medium.

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