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 startup founders, app developers, and companies who have had similar thoughts cross their minds while dreaming up the next revolutionary product.

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

On a global scale, in 2022, around 85% of patent filings occurred in major intellectual property (IP) offices like those in China, the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the EPO, with China alone representing 46.8% of the global total.

HPAI: Image of world patent applications from WIPO

Source: WIPO

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

Your ultimate guide on patent process

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

What is patenting an app idea?

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

You can generally patent an app idea in Australia, China, Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 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, on the other hand, are awarded to ornamental designs of functional items like a phone or an app icon.

Here’s a short video by Patent Professor, an expert in patent law, discussing the difference between the two.

Patenting an app idea works similarly to patenting any other type of invention. The mobile apps’ functionalities and designs must be unique and non-obvious. This way, opportunists and rippers will find them difficult to replicate.

Why is patenting an app idea important?

Given the chance to file a patent 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. But the process lasts an average of three to five years. As you know, the largest patent infringement award to date is worth U$2.54 billion.
  • ✅ Attracts investors in the early stages. By having a patent claim on your mobile app idea, you signal potential investors that your app 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.
  • ✅ Boosts brand reputation and trust. A patent symbolizes innovation and legitimacy, instilling consumer confidence and admiration in your brand. Research reveals that companies with patents achieve a 21% increase in revenue per employee compared to those without patents.

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

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How to patent your app idea: 5 crucial steps

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 such action 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
  • ❌ Patent process may likely delay your plans of sharing your app idea to public and launching your app

For startups, small businesses, and mobile app developers, patenting an app idea has a higher upfront cost. You risk more with your resources instead of directing them to build brand awareness, product development, and other marketing efforts. I’ll talk more later about alternatives to patenting an app idea if you’d consider other options.

💡 So, as you weigh several factors, the best question to ask is: What am I trying to achieve by filing a patent application?

If the mobile app idea is truly, like absolutely 100% unique or novel and has the potential to be highly profitable, protecting your intellectual property may be worth the investment.

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 evaluate your idea and if it’s even a product market fit, you can make an informed decision that will serve you well in the long run.

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

2. Conduct a patent search

The first step is conducting a patent search. Your research will tell you if someone has already patented it or if it’s your mobile app invention.

Here are some tools you can use:


AusPat Patent Search Database Australia. The official database housing Australian patent applications, good for searching patents and detailed information.

HPAI: Image of AusPat website

Source: AusPat

IP Australia Patent Search. The official search service by IP Australia, providing detailed exploration of patents in Australia, with multiple search options available.

HPAI: Image of IP Australia

Source: IP Australia

Australian Patent Search (APS). Recently launched by IP Australia, APS is a user-friendly website for inventors, professionals, and researchers seeking Australian patents.

HPAI: Image of APS website

Source: APS


CNIPA (China National Intellectual Property Administration) Patent Search and Analysis System (PSS). A free tool developed by CNIPA for public users, providing professional patent search and analysis services

HPAI: Image of CNIPA website

Source: CNIPA

China Patent Full-text Database (CNKI Version). Aggregates patents published by the Intellectual Property Publishing House of the State Intellectual Property Bureau.

HPAI: Image of CNKI website

Source: CNKI


European Patent Register. A comprehensive source for public access to up-to-date bibliographic and procedural details on European and PCT patent applications.

HPAI: Image of EPR website

Source: EPR


J-PlatPat (Japan Platform for Patent Information). An official digital library that features patents, utility models, designs, and trademarks in Japan, featuring diverse document access and machine translations.

HPAI: Image of J-PlatPat website

Source: J-PlatPat

United Kingdom

IPO Ipsum. A free online service by the UK Intellectual Property Office, providing status checks and information on UK patent applications.

HPAI: Image of IPO Ipsum website in the UK

United States

Patent Public Search – USPTO. An updated web-based search tool by the USPTO, replacing legacy systems for improved searching of patents and documents.

HPAI: Image of USPTO website

Google Patents. A global database inclusive of USPTO patents, offering full-text search capabilities and access to worldwide patent literature.

HPAI: Image of Google Patents website

Source: Google Patents

The Lens. A secure and open platform hosting patents and scholarly works globally, supporting advanced search functionalities.

HPAI: Image of The Lens website

Source: The Lens

Honestly, patent search is an ardous, complicated process. But the fruit of your labor will pay off along the way.

You may want to ask help from other people to do the patent app research work for you so you can focus more on the business and product development.

But if you want to have a thorough approach, 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 process, 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 testing, 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

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4. Determine patent eligibility

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

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:

📣 Australia app patent eligibility requirements

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

  • New
  • Inventive
  • And useful

📣 China app patent eligibility requirements

When seeking a patent for your app idea in China, you need to meet the eligibility criteria established by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA). These criteria serve as the foundation for protecting innovative, inventive, and highly practical software applications through patent rights:

  • New
  • Inventive
  • Useful
  • Designs must be distinct from existing ones
  • Non-local individuals or companies need a qualified agent to oversee the registration process

📣 Japan app patent eligibility requirements

If you would like to file an app idea patent application in Japan, ensure that you meet the following specific eligibility requirements outlined by the Japan Patent Office (JPO):

  • New
  • Understandable
  • Workable for individuals with basic skills in relevant field
  • Highly advanced technical creation based on the laws of nature
  • Must have industrial use beyond personal or experimental purposes
  • Represent a significant advancement over existing knowledge
  • Align with Japan’s unity of invention standards if it involves multiple innovations

📣 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

📣 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

Every region may have slightly different eligibility requirements and nuances in its patent law.

If you need to file patents in multiple countries, you may also check the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)’s guidelines.

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is like a global passport for patents. It’s an agreement that makes it easier for inventors (or companies or app developers in our context) to file a single application to protect their inventions in multiple countries.

This means you can apply for a patent in over 150 countries at once, instead of having to do it separately in each country. While the PCT doesn’t grant patents directly, it streamlines the international patent application process.

Think of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) as a way to save time and money on patent examinations.

With the PCT system, you can submit one application that’s valid in multiple countries.

Here’s an introduction video of how PCT works

This doesn’t automatically get you a patent; instead, your application goes through an initial assessment to check if your invention qualifies. This step helps you get feedback and can delay patent examination costs of individual country patent reviews.

Again, you should consult a software patent attorney or IP lawyer 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, 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.

After filing a provisional patent application, you have 12 months to choose whether to proceed with a non-provisional patent application to secure protection for your app idea.

When you have a provisional patent application, you can:

  • 👉🏼 Tag your app with “Patent Pending,” which signals to potential competitors that your idea is protected.
  • 👉🏼 Pay for less initially on your provision patent 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 non-provisional patent application, you can still file one, and it’s 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 achieves its success even without filing a patent application?

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

5. 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.

Consider hiring a patent attorney to guide you through drafting and filing your patent application correctly. Though it’s a costly investment, their expertise will ensure your application and documents are prepared accurately. You also get valuable advice and guidance throughout the legal process.

Let’s say you’re 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.

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What are the costs of patenting an app idea?

While the importance of filing a patent application can’t be underestimated, I won’t downplay the costs associated with it. These include government fees, attorney fees, and additional expenses related to the patent application process.

These costs can vary significantly depending on the country in which you are filing the patent.

Below is a summary of the costs associated with patenting an app idea in Australia, China, Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


  • Provisional patent application. Approximately AU$4,500 to AU$8,500, including GST and Patent Office fees.
  • Standard patent application. Around AU$8,000 to AU$15,000 per country, assuming a high-quality provisional patent specification has been filed initially.
  • Attorney fees for drafting a patent application. Range from AU$1,500 to AU$2,200.


  • European patent application. Costs can start from around €10,000, with at least a further €1,000 per designated country.

United Kingdom

  • Filing the application. Costs from £3,000 to £5,000 when hiring a patent attorney.

United States

  • Provisional patent application. Costs between $2,000 to $5,000 for provisional patents.
  • Non-provisional patent application: Preparation and filing can cost between $10,000 to $15,000.
  • Overall costs. Including attorney fees and government fees, the total cost to patent a typical mobile app can range from $20,000 to $30,000, along with maintenance fees over the following 12 years.

These approximate costs can vary based on factors like app complexity and additional expenses during the application process. The costs can stack up when you apply in multiple countries.

If you’re not ready to spend such much money, other options can still add value to your app idea.

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What are the alternatives to patenting an app idea?

Some legal professionals assert that there may be better courses of action than patenting an app idea. 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 that I will unpack below:

Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)

An NDA is 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.

What are the benefits of using an NDA in app idea?

  • Protects your idea. NDAs legally prevent others from sharing or misusing your sensitive information, like your app concept, when discussing it with potential investors or partners.
  • Fosters trust. By formalizing confidentiality, NDAs promote openness and trust in discussions about the specifics of your app idea.
  • Provides legal protection. In case of a breach, NDAs provide a basis for legal action, including claims for damages or stopping unauthorized use of your confidential information.
  • Prevents idea theft. NDAs help guard against the risk of someone taking your app idea and developing it themselves, especially in competitive industries.

There are also drawbacks you need to consider even if you have established an NDA.

Drawbacks of using a NDA

  • Enforcement challenges. It can be tough to monitor and ensure NDA compliance, particularly if the information has been widely shared.
  • Potential collaboration issues. Some parties may see signing NDAs as distrustful, potentially limiting collaboration opportunities or feedback on your app idea.
  • Complexity and cost. Drafting a tailored NDA often requires legal assistance, which may add to the overall costs.
  • Limited protection. NDAs don’t cover publicly known information or ideas independently developed by others. They also don’t stop information disclosure when mandated by law.

Although NDAs do not provide the extensive protection that patents offer, they are essential for safeguarding confidential information when getting a patent right away may not be possible.

They are particularly beneficial for individuals and businesses in the early stages of app development who want to protect their ideas while exploring partnerships or funding opportunities.

At Appetiser, we collaborate with startup founders and companies in the same or different industries. That’s why we always have an NDA when working on projects, from start to finish.


Another alternative to patenting is getting a copyright.

A copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants its owner exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, modify, display, and perform 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.

This means that while the conceptual or functional elements of an app cannot be copyrighted, the tangible expressions of those ideas, such as the source code, graphics, user interface, and other creative elements of an app, are protected under copyright law once they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

What are the benefits of using a copyright in an app idea?

  • Legal shield. Copyright protects your work from unauthorized use, granting exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and display it.
  • Earning potential. It enables you to profit from your work through sales, licenses, or distribution agreements, offering a significant financial incentive for creativity.
  • Personal rights. Copyright often safeguards your personal connection to your work, allowing you to object to any harmful treatments that could damage your reputation.
  • Global coverage. Registering a copyright in one’s home country can lay the groundwork for seeking protection in other nations, broadening the scope of safeguarding.

Drawbacks of using a copyright protection

  • Time limitation. Copyright protection is not everlasting. It typically lasts until the creator’s death plus 70 years, after which the work becomes public domain.
  • Costly complexity. While copyright protection is automatic upon creation, enforcing it, such as taking legal action against infringement, can be expensive and legally intricate.
  • Idea expression focus. Copyright shields only the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, procedures, or systems, allowing similar works that do not mimic the expression.
  • Enforcement hurdles. Monitoring and enforcing copyright can be tough, especially today, where rapid and anonymous copying and distribution are prevalent.

Non-compete agreement

A non-compete agreement is 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.

However, using such an agreement has advantages and disadvantages. Its appropriateness can vary depending on your business’s specific situations and resources, such as your ability to patent an app idea.

Benefits of using a non-compete agreement in an app idea?

  • Protection of trade secrets and IP. Non-compete agreements can help you prevent sharing sensitive information with competitors, especially if your business relies on unique processes, formulas, or software.
  • Retention of talent. Limiting where employees can work after leaving a company can reduce the chances of losing them to direct competitors.
  • Protection of customer relationships. Non-compete agreements can protect customer loyalty by stopping former employees from approaching current customers for business.

Drawbacks of using a non-compete agreement

  • Limited opportunities for employees. These agreements might restrict the employees’ ability to find new opportunities in your field, potentially causing career stagnation.
  • Costly legal battles. Enforcing a non-compete agreement could lead to legal battles that are both costly and time-consuming for all parties involved.
  • Negative impact on innovation. Limiting talent movement between companies through non-compete agreements could hinder innovation and industry growth.

The enforceability of non-compete agreements varies by country, and there’s a growing push to restrict or ban their use, as highlighted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s nationwide ban on noncompetes in the United States.

In Australia, courts may not support a non-compete clause if it excessively limits one’s ability to earn a living or if it’s broader than required to protect the employer’s interests.


A trademark is 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.

  • Legal protection. Trademarks offer legal protection for your brand, allowing you to take action against anyone using it without your permission.
  • Exclusive rights. Registering a trademark grants you exclusive rights to use it on your products or services, stopping others from using a similar mark.
  • Brand identity. Trademarks help establish a strong brand identity, helping customers recognize and differentiate your app from competitors.
  • Prevention of unauthorized use. Trademarks stop competitors and third parties from using your brand or logo, preventing potential confusion among customers.
  • Economic value. Trademarks can enhance the value of your brand, especially as your business expands. They can also be sold or licensed, creating an additional revenue stream.

Drawbacks of using a trademark

  • Cost. Registering a trademark can be expensive, involving registration fees and potential legal fees if you opt for legal assistance with the application.
  • Time-consuming. The process can last from several months to years, influenced by the jurisdiction and any legal hurdles that may emerge.
  • Geographical limitation. Trademark protection is typically territorial, safeguarding you only in the areas where the trademark is officially registered.
  • Maintenance requirements. Trademarks require active use and periodic renewal following registration, entailing additional costs and administrative work. If you don’t have enough people to oversee this, it’s best to avoid it.

Consider trademark registration if patent costs are too high. Trademarks protect indispensable branding elements — such as your app’s name and logo — crucial for market recognition and defending your brand’s integrity.

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 your project going.

Dominate the App Store.

Get the latest industry news first.

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