How to patent a mobile app is one of the most common questions we get from the entrepreneurs that we’ve worked with over the past 10 years at Epic Apps.
In the digital age, where mobile apps are an integral part of our daily lives, the idea of patenting a unique app concept is both appealing and challenging. Aspiring developers and entrepreneurs often wonder about the feasibility of obtaining a software patent for their mobile app idea. Let’s explore the realism of this endeavor in today’s technological landscape.
Understanding Software Patents
A software patent is a form of intellectual property protection that grants the holder exclusive rights to the use and implementation of a specific software algorithm, process, or methodology. In the context of mobile apps, this would mean securing exclusive rights to a particular feature or functionality within the app.
Criteria for Patentability of a Mobile App
The key to obtaining a software patent lies in meeting certain criteria. Primarily, the idea must be novel, non-obvious, and have a practical application. This means your mobile app idea should offer a new solution or functionality that hasn’t been previously disclosed and must be a significant improvement over existing technologies.
Challenges in Patenting Mobile Apps
The Novelty Factor: With millions of apps already in existence, finding a genuinely novel idea is increasingly challenging. The app must offer something that has not been done before or significantly improves an existing process. Key word there is “significantly”.
Non-Obviousness: The idea should not be an obvious solution to someone with average skill in the technology field. This is often yet another subjective area and can be a major hurdle in the patent process.
Technical Complexity: Software patents often require detailed technical descriptions. For a mobile app, this means you must clearly articulate the unique algorithms or processes your app uses. Key word there is “unique”, as in it’s never been done before. Which leads to the next challenge…
Open Source Issue: Over 90% percent of the code behind most new apps today is from open source libraries. While designing the UX/UI of a mobile app is highly unique to every mobile app, almost every basic function behind it can be found in online repositories of pre-written code, irrespective of how difficult it may be to integrate that code into your app. Even if you write the code yourself, that code is almost certainly available already, and thus, is not patentable.
Evolving Legal Landscape: The legal landscape for software patents, especially in the U.S. following the landmark 2014 Supreme Court Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International decision, has become more stringent. This decision has made obtaining patents for abstract ideas, including certain mobile app software patent applications, much more difficult.
Practical Considerations of a Software Patent
Cost and Time: Patenting is an expensive and time-consuming process. The costs include legal fees for patent drafting and prosecution, and the process can take several years.
Market Dynamics: The fast-paced nature of the tech world means that an app could become obsolete by the time a patent is granted.
Enforcement: Even with a patent, enforcing it can be challenging and costly, especially against overseas entities.
While obtaining a software patent for a mobile application is not impossible, it’s fraught with challenges. The process demands a truly novel idea, significant resources, and an understanding of the complex and evolving legal landscape. Developers must weigh the benefits against the costs, and consider alternative forms of protection to safeguard their innovations in the competitive world of mobile apps.
From our experience, most entrepreneurs are better served by using their time and money to aggressively market their app so that it becomes the de facto app in its space.