Patents are extremely powerful and can be very useful. The idea is that the person who files a patent in a certain country (probably the United States in this case) will get exclusive rights to use or sell that invention. But in order to file a patent the person must fully disclose and explain how the invention works so that someone well instructed in that field would be able to reproduce the invention. In return for this disclosure, the inventor will gain exclusive rights to that invention for a period of 20 years.
This sounds pretty great, but is your idea really patentable. In order to patent something your idea has to contain 3 characteristics; useful, new, and not obvious. To claim something is useful your patent must explain how it is useful and then show how it meets that useful objective. A patent must be new or novel. This is pretty easy to understand; you cannot patent something that already exists with the exception that you can patent a new use for an old product. Lastly your patent needs to be non-obvious. That essentially means that an average person with knowledge in that field would not be able to easily come up with that invention. There must be some sort of creative step. But also keep in mind that non-obvious is highly subjective and things have been patented that in many cases seems rather obvious.
So now that we know all this information about patents, should you try to patent your app? The answer is probably no. Given the fact that most apps have a relatively short life-cycle and a relatively long process to file a patent (at least 2 -3 years), it is probably not the best idea. Not to mention the cost, you can pretty much guarantee that it will cost you at least $10,000 or more to file a patent. Plus you still need to prove how it is useful, new, and non-obvious. Than in the end, if someone copies your invention, you can’t even file a suit against them until your patent is granted. And on top of that if you file the patent but someone can prove that came up with the concept first you patent could still be overturned. But there still may be exceptional cases where they have a long term goal and you can wait 3 years to file your patent.
Either way you need to decide fairly early on if you want to patent your app. Once you publish your app, write about it on a blog, or announce publicly is some other way you have to file the patent within 1 year. So probably determine this before launching the app.
You can apply for a patent by yourself but it seems to not be recommended unless you have some prior legal experience. It is not an easy process. Although, a good recommendation is try to fill out the paperwork yourself before you hire a patent lawyer so that hopefully you can finish the process up a little bit quicker and hopefully cause that person to charge you less money.
In the end patents are powerful and provide a lot of protection assuming you can wait 2-3 years, have the money to spend on a patent, and you really have a new, useful, non-obvious invention. But since this really doesn’t describe the target market of this article, it is probably a safe bet to say you should not patent your app.
- Dummies – The Patent Process
- BURDLAW – WHAT IS A PATENT?
- Intellectual Property Office – What is a patent?
- USPTO.gov – What is a patent?
- Wikipedia – Patent
- Web Design Group – Legal aspects of Webdesign
- Prgamatic Marketing – What are Patents?
- Richards Patent Law – Can I patent an iPhone app?
- iPhone Dev SDK – Has anyone successfully patented an app?
- About – Lesson Six: How do I Apply for a Patent?
- LegalZoom – Protect your investment with a U.S. Patent