Is Your Mobile App Patentable?

Many businesses create apps as part of their operations. Once you make an app, you can determine if your app can be patented.

Mobile applications (apps) are indeed patentable and can help protect against others copying a successful idea, but getting such a patent is difficult. There are two types of patents that apply to mobile apps: utility patents and design patents.

Utility patents protect the functionality and use of an invention. The invention must be a new and useful “process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.” A mobile app can be considered a computer-implemented “process.” Mobile app patents are difficult to obtain because they must overcome being categorized as an “abstract idea.” An abstract idea, such as an algorithm, general principle, or method of computation, is not patentable, and such an idea is not made patentable simply by using a computer to implement it. For it to be patentable, there must be “something extra” added to the implementation that shows an “inventive concept.” In addition, the mobile app invention must be novel (not already known or in use) and must not be obvious to a person skilled in the field.

If a utility patent is out of reach, another option for protecting your mobile app is a design patent. Design patents protect the ornamental aspects of a product, but not the product’s functional features. In fact, for a design to be patentable, the design cannot be determined solely by functional necessity. A graphical user interface (GUI) design patent can protect the creative look of your mobile app as long as the design is not designed specifically to accommodate the app’s function. As with utility patents, the design must also be novel and not obvious to a person skilled in the field.

Although a patent may be unobtainable, copyright protection is always available for the software behind a mobile app. Copyright does not protect against the copying of the underlying idea, or outcome, of the software; it only protects against a line-by-line copying of the code. Because of this limitation, patents are often the preferred choice for protecting an eligible mobile app. It is important to keep in mind that patent applications generally cost significant time and money. You should consult with a patent attorney to determine if a patent is right for you.

Keon Seif-Naraghi