While you can file a patent application for your entire app, it’s rarely worth the time and money. However, there may be parts of your app that are worth patenting.
No Need to Patent Your Entire App
While every application is unique, the majority of most apps are not. Most apps have common features such as user signup and login that simply do not meet the criteria for a U.S. patent.
However, the unique parts of your application—innovative and new ways to interact with your phone or get work done—are probably patentable.
What Are Good Reasons to Patent Parts of Your App?
If you believe you have a competitive advantage that can be replicated, consider a patent. Once your app is published, a determined competitor can reverse-engineer what you’ve created. A patent prevents them from using what they’ve learned from you.
However, even if your work is patentable, you have to ask yourself if you’ll use the patent.
- Are you willing to enforce it (i.e., spend money suing competitors)?
- Are you willing to license it (i.e., sell it to competitors)?
If your answer to both of the above questions is “no,” don’t bother.
Patents are public records. If your goal is to protect a trade secret—something you never want your competitors to know—patenting your work is the worst thing you can do. Instead, protect your app idea with NDAs and vendor contracts.
Are patents attractive to investors?
If you seek funding, patents can help you. Venture capitalists will view patents as proof you have something innovative. They’ll see patents as a moat—a competitive advantage—in your industry. Additionally, patents are assets. If you stop using your patents, you can always sell them. These are all good things from an investor’s perspective.
Identify What You Do Differently
There are two types of patents you can seek from the USPTO for your app: a design patent and a utility patent. A design patent protects how your product looks. A utility patent protects how your product works.
Unless you have a truly innovative design, you’re not going to seek a design patent for your app. The problem with design patents in software is that you don’t want to deviate too much from what users know. A truly innovative design, while patentable, may confuse your users.
Instead, identify what is unique about how your product functions. What are you doing that has never been done before? As an example, let’s consider a mobile app for watching movies. Viewing a movie on a phone is not new or innovative. However, the process to acquire the movie may be. If you create a new way to rent, share, or encrypt movie files, you may patent those features.
Questions to ask yourself to discover patentable features
Review every single feature of your application. Ask yourself the following questions for each one. If your answer to each question is “yes,” you may have something worth patenting.
- Is this a new feature that has never before existed?
- Does this feature have some tangible benefit versus the old way of doing things?
- Is creation of this feature non-obvious to others?
Going through this exercise, you may discover several potentially patentable features in your app.
The Cost to Patent Your App
The monetary cost for filing a non-provisional utility patent—the most common type of software patent—can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll likely spend at least $5,000 to $20,000 in legal fees if you seek professional help filing a patent.
Filing a patent doesn’t guarantee you’ll be awarded one, either. If your application gets rejected, a second application will cost just as much.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will require up to $1,600 to process your application. And once you have your patent, the fees keep coming. You have to pay maintenance fees to maintain your patent, to the tune of several thousand dollars over 12 years.
On top of these monetary costs, you’re going to invest plenty of time working on your patent application. To patent your app, you’ll need to write documentation describing the novel and innovative features of your app that deserve a patent. You will also need to showcase your innovation through multiple diagrams and illustrations.
A good patent attorney will guide you through this process. However, you will spend at least a few weeks drafting your application.
Ready To Do Something Innovative?
We know how to identify what’s patentable in your app and have worked with clients to file patents. Contact us to discuss how we can help you build something innovative.