Is Instagram patented? Is Snapchat patented? Both these apps are highly performing and can as well be called innovative. Both social media platforms came out with different ideas that worked differently than the existing social media channels. However, they cannot be copyrighted. You can build up a platform with a similar function as Instagram and not face any consequences. There are many similar apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
Today, Facebook owns Instagram. It didn’t have a single patent when it got acquired. In the case of Snapchat, Instagram copied the idea of stories from Snapchat. It was a blatant copy, and they even openly acclaimed Snapchat for their innovativeness. And Snapchat didn’t take any legal action. The reason being they didn’t have any patents, and they were not even eligible for patents.
What Is A Patent?
A dictionary meaning of patent is ‘government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention. A patent stops others from copying your idea.
If you have written a book, others cannot copy the contents. If you have invented a steam engine, others cannot copy your steam engine.
In 1994, Apple filed a suit on Microsoft, claiming it stole their idea of the Mac Operating system. It was a famous clash between two up-and-coming software giants. Apple lost as it hadn’t patented the idea. There are several cases where the originator lost the case because of not filing for a patent.
However, in the case of mobile apps, you simply cannot stop others from using your idea or that you can even patent it.
For an invention to be patented, the requirements are that the idea should be novel, non-obvious, and overall eligible for usage. For most mobile apps, meeting these requirements is simply impossible.
Should You Patent An App?
Suppose you have $20000 and a marvelous idea for a mobile app. What will you do?
Use that capital for patenting to ensure nobody uses it or use that capital to build your app. Most people will choose the latter.
For most emerging start-ups, finances are tight. You either use it for paying your developers or paying the lawyers (who do not have any effect on your business in the initial stages).
Apart from capital, the most obvious reason is the nature of most mobile apps.
If you are a developer, you will know that most(90%) of the codes used for making your revolutionary app are from open source. You use pre-made codes to build new or similar features. However mundane or unique the features appear, you are copying them from open source. This makes it fairly challenging for any mobile app to get a patent.
Another Reason Is The Novel Part.
For instance, Instagram blatantly copied Snapchat’s Stories feature. It was an innovative idea, but ironically it wasn’t novel. You have been using that feature for ages through your scrapbooks. Sharing pictures in the form of a story is nothing new and mostly obvious. So, of course, the idea got copied. There was a lookalike feature. But nothing can be done about it.
Also, copyrights only protect the arrangement of codes in software but not the result. Suppose you have a book. The copyright will disallow people from copying the contents. But not from taking the core idea of the story.
So, the verdict?
It’s useless to get a patent if not near impossible. In a nutshell, it is impossible to patent an app because –
- It is expensive to get a patent. It can cost from $5000 to $20,000
- It is a time-consuming process
- Most codes used for making features are opensource
- Ideas are hardly novel
- Patents only protect the lines of code and not the features or end product
How To Patent A Mobile App Idea?
Patenting an app idea may sound impossible and even useless. However, protecting your idea can protect your business. Facebook has 1317 patents in the United States. It will land you in trouble if you copy any patented feature of Facebook. Apple has over 70000 patents globally, and over 50000 are still active.
Patenting an idea protects your idea. It does not let competitors use your idea. It is expensive to get a patent but intrinsic to your success. In the case of mobile apps, however difficult it is to patent an idea, patenting can save your business. With rapidly growing technology, it is not impossible to say that somebody develops a better version of your idea. Your idea may be unique but not something that cannot be copied or enhanced. Having a patent in place can deter such competitors in the bud itself.
Below are steps on how to get mobile app copyright or patent –
Research And Cross-Verify
Is your idea already patented? With the increasing number of mobile apps, there is a high probability that your idea already exists in some form or manner. And there might already be a patent in place. Do thorough research to check whether your mobile app idea is unique or not. You can check the patent database to see whether there is already a patent for the same idea in your country. In the US, you can check USPTO for the patent database.
Leave the legal litigation tasks to experts. Filing a patent involves a lot of legal processes. Even filling up a form is difficult for novices not acquainted with the legal terms. Hiring a patent lawyer takes away a lot of burdens. Choose an expert in the field with a lot of experience in patenting software.
One of the eligibility criteria of patenting is the feasibility of the idea. The idea of flying cars has been around ages. You cannot tell who was the first one to think of that idea. The first one who thought of the idea cannot file for a patent as they cannot prove or achieve the feasibility. The one who can bring the idea to tangible form is the one who can file for a patent. The one who actually made the flying car, whatever be its usability, if it’s even usable 10 percent, can file for the patent.
If you have a novel idea for a mobile app, you will have to at least submit the prototype to get your patent procedure forward.
Provisional or Utility Patent
There are two types of patents – one is provisional, and the other is utility patents. A provisional patent has the status of patent pending. You can file for a provisional patent without having to incur charges like a formal patent. You will have to file for a utility patent within a year.
A utility patent is a regular patent. To file a utility patent, you will have to go through all the legal procedures, have the prototype in place and have a thorough and delineated detail of your original work.
For mobile apps with budget constraints, getting a patent-pending status over their app can safeguard the app ideas from getting stolen. You have one year to work on your brainchild and get a utility patent filed. By applying for a provisional patent, you can work on your app idea without worrying about it getting stolen and also not waste a ton of capital on actually patenting the mobile app idea.
Submit Final Patent Application
The last step is to submit the final application for patent. You will need to submit lots of documents like specifications, declarations or oaths, data disclosure statements, and many other important documents.
After filing the application, there are plenty of chances for your application to get rejected. One of the reasons can be that there is already a similar app that is patented. It might feel like you went through hell only to get denied at the doorstep. However, don’t lose hope. There are still ways to turn your situation around. Do more thorough research and try to make your app stand out differently from the already existing one. Make it appear like a different app from the existing patented app, then you can get the patent.
If you are able to patent first, then you will be able to safeguard your idea. No matter if you are the originator or the innovator. The one who successfully patents it has the legal rights for ownership. So, the earliest is the best.
Also, the process of patenting is very lengthy. It can take you 4 to 6 years to get the patent. A better lawyer or a bigger organization can get patents filed easily and fastly. However, it is not possible for small businesses.
Other Ways to Safeguard Your App Idea
There are other ways to prevent your idea from getting stolen. You can use plenty of existing legal measures to protect it.
- Copyright: You can copyright the codes of your apps. It will protect it from getting copied by others.
- Non-Disclosure Agreement: Whenever you hire a new employee, get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It will bar them from sharing details and data pertaining to your app or business.
- Non-Compete Agreement: This will prohibit your developers or employees from working for your competitors. They cannot work on similar projects for a fixed period of time after leaving your company.
- Trademark: This will protect the brand image elements of your app: logos, catalogs, ads, designs, and titles from getting copied.
- Records: By documenting your app-making procedure, you can use these records when faced with infringement lawsuits.