How to Patent an App Idea: Securing a Potential Million-Dollar Business

Image of a provisional application on how to patent an app idea

Have you ever had a mobile app idea or software that could one day be worth millions?

You’re not alone.

We’ve spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs, app developers, and companies who have had similar thoughts cross their minds while dreaming up the next revolutionary invention.

But, what many don’t realize is that without taking the proper steps to protect your creative vision, those hopes of stardom can quickly turn into lost dreams.

On a global scale, patent filings increased by 3.6% in 2021, most coming from China, the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

Patent an App Idea - image on statistics

Source: WIPO

So, if you have an app idea and want to know if you can patent it, if it does matter, and if it is even worth it, and other processes you want to know, carry on.

What is patenting an app idea?

Before exploring the steps to patent app idea, let’s first understand what patenting an idea means.

Patenting an app idea can be promising for anyone looking to turn innovative ideas into profitable ventures. It legally protects your intellectual property and helps prevent others from profiting off your concepts.

You can generally patent an app idea in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and China. And each country has its criteria and requirements. Still, they primarily acknowledge these two types: utility and design.

  • Utility patents are the most common form of patent awarded to new and valuable inventions or discoveries that are not obvious to those skilled in the relevant field.
  • Design patents, however, are awarded to ornamental designs of functional items like a phone or an app icon.

Patenting an app idea works similarly to patenting any other type of invention. The app’s functionality and design must be unique and non-obvious. It means opportunists and rippers will find that app patents make it hard to copy or replicate.

Why is patenting an app idea important?

Given the chance to file a patent for an app idea, here are the reasons why taking that route is crucial for your brand.

  • ✅ Protects you against infringement. You obtain the legal right to prevent the unauthorized use or sale of your mobile app idea. As a patent owner, you can file a lawsuit and get compensation for any infringement. However, the process lasts an average of three to five years. So as you know, the largest patent infringement award to date is worth $2.54 billion.
  • ✅ Attracts investors in the early stages. By having a patent claim on your app idea, you signal to potential investors that your invention is unique, valuable, and worth investing in. Companies with solid IP portfolios will likely increase their valuation and secure more funds in the early stages.
  • ✅ Increases market share. As the owner of a patented mobile app idea, you have exclusivity, which can lead to increased profits and market share. According to a study, companies with patents are likely to experience a strong growth path. A high growth potential helps offset any other challenges you might encounter when creating an app.

The statistics above provide evidence for the tangible benefits and importance, so now, let’s move on to the most crucial part: obtaining a formal patent claim.

6 Crucial steps on how to patent your app idea

1. Decide whether you should even patent your app idea

The decision to patent your app idea should not be taken lightly. You must fully understand the value of what you’re doing before committing to the entire patent process.

Generally, patenting mobile apps may not be practical because

  • App patent cost is expensive and may not be worth your time and resources.
  • Patent protection will be a lengthy process, which can take years.
  • Before the patent application process, it will likely delay your plans of going public with your mobile app idea.

For startups, small businesses, and mobile app developers, an app idea patent’s upfront cost is higher, so you’re risking more on your resources, instead of directing them to build brand awareness, product development, and other marketing efforts.

I’ll talk more later on alternatives to patenting an app idea if you’d consider other routes.

❓So, as you weigh in several factors, the best question is this: what am I trying to achieve in filing a patent application?

If the mobile app idea is truly unique or novel and has the potential to be highly profitable, it may be worth the investment of protecting your intellectual property.

Ultimately, the decision to patent a mobile app idea comes down to weighing the potential benefits against the potential costs and risks. By taking the time to thoroughly evaluate your idea and the market, you can make an informed decision that will serve you well in the long run.

Once decided on your patent protection, the next step is for you.

2. Conduct a patent search

When it comes to patenting your app idea, the first step you need to take is conducting a patent search. Through your research, you will know if someone has already patented it or if it’s your mobile app invention.

Here are some tools you can use:

Honestly, this is an arduous, complicated patent search process. But the fruit of your labor will pay off along the way. In addition, it’s best to work with a legal professional to ensure your research is comprehensive and accurate.

3. Document the app development process

Say you have scored well on your patent searches and found no replica of your mobile app idea. Then the next step is to document the entire app development process. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Maintain a detailed and chronological record of the app development stages, from ideation to launch. Create flowcharts, wireframes, concept sketches, development plans, and other diagrams that outline the process step by step.
  2. Document all decisions made during the development process, including any changes or modifications made to the app prototype. Keep records of the design and functionality of earlier versions to maintain a clear trail of its progression from start to finish.
  3. Support your claims with factual data and examples, like research, feedback from early mobile app testers, or industry statistics validating your development decisions. This helps provide proof of your app’s originality and innovation when filing a patent application.

Here’s an example of Facebook’s patent protecting its back-end functionality. Instead of patenting the entire app, the company patented a novel feature. You won’t even notice this whenever you use it.

Patent an App Idea - Facebook patent image example

Source: Rapacke Law Group

4. Determine patent eligibility

As you progress in your journey to patent your app idea, it is crucial to determine eligibility requirements in different regions before you apply for a patent.

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This step often requires a deep understanding of legal frameworks, international filings, and patent laws where you want to file a patent application.

Here’s a brief overview of what each country requires:

United States app patent eligibility requirements

In the United States, patent eligibility is determined by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). According to the USPTO, to be eligible for a patent, your mobile app idea must fall under any of the following categories of provisional patents:

  • A process
  • A machine
  • A manufactured article
  • A composition of matter, or
  • An improvement of the above categories

Australia app patent eligibility requirements

In Australia, the eligibility requirements international patents are quite similar to the US patent law. According to the Australian Government, to be eligible for a patent, your mobile app idea must be:

  • New
  • Inventive, and
  • Useful

Europe and United Kingdom app patent eligibility requirements

In the UK, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) determines patent eligibility and follows a similar approach to Australia and the US. The same goes for what the European Patent Office (EPO) requires. The patent must be:

  • Novel
  • Inventive, and
  • Capable of industrial application

Every region may have slightly different eligibility requirements and nuances in its patent law. Again, you should consult a software patent attorney to help you navigate the regulations.

5. File a provisional patent application

Now that you’ve completed your search and identified that your mobile app idea is unique and patent eligible for filing, it’s time to take the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property: file a provisional patent application.

This application establishes a filing date and offers short-term protection without the expenses of a formal application. You can file this application to safeguard your app idea from theft.

When you have a provisional patent application, you can:

👉🏼 Tag your app idea with “Patent Pending” which signals potential competitors that your idea is protected.

👉🏼 Pay for less initially on your application. Think of it as your downpayment before you commit to the formal one.

👉🏼 Create your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) app before filing for a patent application. You can use this as leverage with investors and customers because they can already see some form of a tangible, functional product. It’s also an opportunity to stay lean in your budget while putting your mobile app in the market with some protection.

In contrast, if you choose the nonprovisional patent application, you can still file one, and its’ also processed. But the difference from the latter is that you need to have complete specifications from top to bottom – including written descriptions of your app invention.

So, should you decide to take the provisional patent application, you can move on to developing your MVP. Want to see how an MVP mobile app became zero to hero? Here’s how Roamni made it from vision to being a partner of F1 Formula and Australian Grand Prix.

Patent an App Idea: image of roamni

6. Prepare and file your app patent application

Congratulations on reaching this final step — it’s high time to file your app patent. This is where your hard work and dedication are translated into tangible paperwork.

Hire a patent attorney, as it can help you draft and file your patent application properly. You will get all the advice and guidance throughout the legal process. But of course, hiring one is a costly investment, but they can help you draft the application and prepare other documents.

Let’s say you’re all ready with the application — now you can file it to your designated patent and trademark agency or office. If you’re in the US, then file it at USPTO. Australian companies can file app patent applications at IP Australia. Filing can take about three to five weeks, depending on the patent attorney’s work.

A filing date is assigned to your application, establishing the priority for your app idea. Remember that patent approval may take about 22 months or more — it can take several years, so be prepared to wait a while.

Other alternatives to patenting an app idea

Some legal professionals assert that patenting an app idea may not be the best course of action. For one, it’s expensive. Second, it takes years and by the time it’s approved, someone may have already come up with a more ingenious solution than yours.

You may try the other less complicated alternatives to patenting an app idea, like the following:

  • 📗 Non-disclosure agreement. A legally binding contract that prohibits the recipient from sharing confidential information. This is often used when pitching an app idea to potential investors or partners. By signing an NDA, they are agreeing not to disclose your idea or use it for their own benefit.
  • 📗 Trademark. A symbol, word, or phrase that distinguishes your app from others in the market. This can be valuable in building brand recognition and preventing others from using similar names or logos.
  • 📗 Copyright.A copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants its owner exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, modify, display, and perform a creative work for a limited period. It safeguards the original expression of an idea manifested in a creative work rather than the idea itself. Copyright laws can protect the tangible expression of an app idea, including the app’s source code and design, once it is developed.
  • 📗 Non-compete agreement. A contract that restricts an employee or contractor from working for a competitor after leaving your company. This can be valuable in preventing your app’s secrets and intellectual property from being used against you.

Got an app idea? Let’s build it together

Now you know everything about patenting an app. It’s time to take serious action. The best way to ensure your idea gets the results it deserves is by building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This will provide a foundation for showing off your ideas and gaining consumer insights.

But wait, there’s more. Trust me, you can’t afford to overlook this.

According to research, one-third of all startups were launched under $5,000, with zero confidence that they’d make it. But with an MVP on your side, early adopters like yours can reap the real benefits of understanding what your target market needs.

At Appetiser, our experienced developers can show you how to build an MVP app that matches your expectations. And do it quickly and cost-effectively.

We strive to bring our clients’ ideas alive through our expertise — from teardown reviews, wireframing, coding, and testing to deploying to any app platform you need.

Working with brands that started from scratch to million dollar evaluations, we have pretty much seen it all.

So don’t hesitate: contact us today and let’s get this project going.

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