How to Patent an App Idea in 2024 [A Complete Guide]
13 min.

Mobile apps have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. With over 5 million apps available in major stores like Google Play and the App Store, the competition is fierce. And as an entrepreneur, you likely have innovative app ideas that you want to bring to market despite of that competition.

However, with so many apps already out there, how can you protect your unique concept? This is where protecting your app idea comes in.

This document gives you exclusive rights to your invention for a limited period. It legally prevents others from copying, selling, distributing, or even developing similar software without your permission.

While not all ideas can or should apply, understanding the mobile app patent application process can help secure your intellectual property. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about applying your mobile app idea in 2023.

What Does Patenting an App Idea Mean in Simple Language?

App development patenting in simple words.

In simple terms, a patent allows you to legally claim an invention or idea as your own intellectual property for a certain amount of time. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines the term as “the grant of a property right to the inventor” for up to 20 years.

This grants you exclusive control over the production and sale of your patented app idea. This prevents others from copying or otherwise benefitting from your software without your consent.

The document is extremely important for a software provider or tech startup looking to protect their unique ideas and inventions from replication. Having this status adds value to your application and enhances your ability to attract investors or sell your app. Overall, it makes your idea legally defensible.

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Why Consider Patenting Your App Idea?

After researching the topic, we’ve found the following reasons to consider patenting a mobile app:

  • Legal protection against copying – Prevents others from making, using, or selling your patented features and functions. This protects you from replicators or “me-too” apps.

  • Ability to license and earn royalties – You can license your technology to others in return for royalties and licensing fees. This provides recurring revenue.

  • Increased valuation – These documents make your software more valuable in the eyes of investors and buyers. This helps attract funding or get a higher price during acquisition.

  • Market exclusivity – You get exclusive rights to commercialize your invention for 20 years, blocking competitors. This secures your market share.

  • Stronger legal process position – You can enforce your rights against infringers through litigation if needed. These documents strengthen your legal standing.

  • First-mover advantage – Being first to patent an idea in your niche gives you an edge over later entrants.

  • Reveals inventiveness – It highlights the uniqueness and non-obviousness of your app’s functionality.

  • Peace of mind – Overall, the document provides the peace of mind that your hard work and ingenuity cannot be easily copied without repercussions.

All the points led to one reason – protecting your app idea and the resulting digital asset.

Digital Asset Protection

The most compelling reason to patent an app idea is to protect your intellectual property from replication. The status gives you the legal authority to stop other companies or developers from making unauthorized copies of your app. This includes using your source code, algorithms, user interface elements, and other novel features present in your app.

Unlike copyright which protects creative expressions, a patent protects the functionality of an app. So you can prevent competitors from developing the same core utility or purpose that makes your app idea unique. Having this status makes it difficult for “me too” mobile app ideas to simply duplicate your innovation without repercussions.

What are the Different Types of Patents?

The United States patent types.

Understanding the different types of patents is essential before proceeding to patent an app idea. The US Patent and Trademark Office recognizes three main types:

Utility: These cover new and useful processes, machines, manufacturers, or compositions of matter. For app ideas, utility patents are the most relevant, as they protect the functionality and processes behind your app.

Design: Design patents protect the ornamental design or aesthetics of an invention. While less common for mobile ideas, they can apply if your app’s visual design is exceptionally unique and innovative.

Plant: These provisional patents are for inventors who have discovered and asexually reproduced new and distinct plant varieties. They are not applicable to an app idea.

Types of Mobile App Ideas You Can Patent

You can potentially secure a patent for any novel mobile app idea. Here are some examples of patent mobile app ideas that are eligible:

  • A new algorithm e.g. a unique search algorithm for travel booking apps.

  • Innovative software processes or business methods e.g. transaction systems, payment gateways.

  • Unique UI elements like icons, transitions, layouts, etc.

  • New hardware that works in conjunction with the software, e.g. IoT devices.

  • Inventive ways of displaying or manipulating data using your interface.

However, you cannot apply mere themes, genres, or high-level concepts. For instance, you cannot patent a simple calorie counter or weather application as many similar apps already exist.

But if your idea has a totally unconventional method of counting calories or presenting weather data, you may be able to apply those specific methods. We can discuss it further during our Discovery Phase, choosing the right engagement model and preparing your idea for patenting.

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Requirements for Patenting a Mobile App Idea

App idea patent requirements.

Not all ideas are eligible for protection. To qualify, your project must meet certain criteria:

Uniqueness – The invention should be demonstrably unique compared to existing apps. You need to prove your app idea introduces new features, technology, or functionality.

Usefulness – The invention should have functional utility and solve a real-world problem in a new way.

Non-obviousness – Your invention can’t be obvious to someone skilled in app development like the ProCoders offshore developers. It needs to be sufficiently unconventional.

Concrete implementation – You can’t apply with vague notions. You need a specific process or framework for implementing the app idea.

Technical nature – The concept should have a technical aspect like software, algorithms, etc. You can even apply business methods sometimes.

Documentation – You need to fully describe your invention in writing, diagrams, and drawings so others can replicate it.

Fees – You must pay filing, attorney, and maintenance fees to apply and retain the status.

It Must Be An Invention

To be patentable, your concept should be an “invention” not just an “app idea”.

An idea refers to a general concept like “a calorie counting app” or “a travel app”. An invention, on the other hand, is a specific implementation like “a calorie counter using augmented reality to identify food items”. The use of AR makes it an inventive take on calorie tracking.

An invention introduces new functionality, technology, or features that have never been seen before. It should not be obvious to someone skilled in app development, whether you opt for onshore or offshore engineers. It needs to be sufficiently unique and unconventional.

A Unique Mobile App Idea Is a Requirement for Patent Application Process

To be granted a patent, you must prove your app idea is demonstrably unique. Here are some approaches to make your mobile app idea stand out:

  • Use a new algorithm or proprietary operation method.

  • Leverage capabilities of emerging hardware like augmented reality, IoT, etc. in an unconventional way.

  • Incorporate an innovative interface, interactions, or graphics.

  • Automate processes done manually before e.g. using AI for a certain task.

Overall, emphasize what makes your app idea different. Explain why it raises the bar from conventional apps in your niche. This will strengthen your patent application. We at ProCoders can help you with this, residing in one of the best offshore software development countries.

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Now, let’s finally find out how to patent mobile apps.

The Process: How to Patent an App Idea?

app idea get patented fast

As the basic requirements and types of app patents are clear, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of applying with your mobile app idea:

Step 1: Conduct a Deep Search for Similar Patents

Importance of research

Before applying, it is crucial to thoroughly research existing patents in your niche. This prevents you from accidentally violating someone else’s rights. Comprehensive research also identifies any potential infringement risks early on.

Analyzing the database

Patent search sources are the USPTO database of international filings as well as Google Patents. Look for similar documents by keywords, classifications, dates, and inventors’ names. Study the claims and descriptions of each closely related section in detail. See if your app idea infringes on any existing protected features.

Practicing patent search

Ideally, hire a registered patent attorney to conduct the patent search process for you. They can professionally analyze documents to determine if your mobile app invention has a green light. If not, they can help tweak your concept to avoid conflicts.

Step 2: Prepare Your Patent Application

Your patent application has multiple components:

  • Specification: This detailed document defines your invention and what makes it novel. It teaches others how to develop your mobile app idea.

  • A formal patent claim: The claims specifically outline your invention’s protected features and functionality.

  • Drawings: Visual diagrams of your app’s workflow, interfaces, architecture, etc.

  • Declaration: Confirms you are the original inventor entitled to the rights.

  • Filing fee: The USPTO charges a fee to submit a patent application.

A patent lawyer can help draft error-free documentation explaining every aspect of your invention. ProCoders experts can study your idea and make compelling visuals and other deliverables for it. Mistakes can cause delays or weaken enforceability, so hire only professionals.

To prepare properly, you have to clearly describe how your invention works in the specification so others can replicate it. Break down algorithms, processes, UI design, etc. Focus the claims on your app’s novel aspects. Keep claims concise and don’t repeat across claims.

Of course, we always recommend engaging an experienced patent attorney to draft an error-free application and optimize the chances of approval. Don’t forget to list all potential inventors who contributed significantly to the development and have them sign declarations.

Our last preparation tip is selecting the correct category (utility, design, etc.) and classification codes for your application.

With meticulous prep and help from a patent lawyer, you can submit an airtight application that accurately captures your invention’s novelty. This smooths the application process.

Step 3: Filing Your Application

File your app idea patent application

When you’re satisfied with your patent application, it’s time to file it with the USPTO. There are two main options for filing:

Provisional Patent Application: An Overview

A provisional patent is a lower-cost, temporary alternative that establishes your priority date before filing a full non-provisional patent application within 12 months. It has several benefits:

  • Lower costs: Only requires a basic filing fee of $280 for micro entities, instead of thousands for a non-provisional. Attorney fees are also lower.

  • Buys time: This gives you 12 months to further test and improve your concept before filing the complete application for your mobile app invention.

  • Priority date: The filing date of your application serves as the priority date for your patent app idea when you later file the non-provisional patent application. This helps prevent issues if similar applications are filed after your date.

  • No claims required: You don’t need to draft claims for the provisional type, saving time and money.

  • Confidentiality: Provisional applications are not published or publicly disclosed by the USPTO until the non-provisional one is filed. This adds a layer of confidentiality.

  • Validation: Allows you to gauge market demand or validate technical feasibility before fully committing.

  • “Patent pending” capital raising: Easier to approach investors with “patent pending” status from your provisional filing.

Limitations of provisional application

  • Requires non-provisional: You must file for a non-provisional patent within 12 months to benefit from the provisional priority date.

  • No term adjustment: Filing for this type first does not extend your eventual 20-year term.

  • Not enforceable: You cannot enforce the rights or label the product as such.

  • Additional costs: You will still incur full costs for the non-provisional filing later.

Overall, for many inventors, this type of application strikes the right balance between securing rights quickly and minimizing upfront costs.

Step 4: File the Non-Provisional Application

Submit your full permanent patent application and filing fees to the USPTO electronically or on paper. Ensure accurate classification and documentation. Pay the required fees for your entity size. Track the application status online after filing.

how to get patent approved

Step 5: Patent Office Review

An examiner will assess if your invention meets all patentability criteria including novelty, non-obviousness, and utility over 12-18 months. The examiner may issue rejections that your experienced software patent attorney must overcome with arguments and amendments. Go through all office actions diligently.

Step 6: Respond to Office Actions

Address any office actions received during the examination by clarifying arguments through your patent attorney. Respond to rejections thoroughly explaining why your invention overcomes them. Amend claims if needed while retaining scope. Get valuable examiner feedback.

Step 7: Receive a Grant

Once approved after prosecution, you will receive a grant generally within 18-24 months from filing. Your invention is now protected intellectual property for up to 20 years from the application filing date.

Step 8: Pay Maintenance Fees

You must pay periodic maintenance fees to the USPTO to keep your patent eligibility including fees at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after grant.

Step 9: Monitor and Enforce

Detect any potential infringements by monitoring your niche. Enforce your rights through cease and desist letters or litigation if others violate your protected IP.

With Our Discovery Phase, at Least One Stage of This Lengthy Process Is Made Easier.

So, how long do these stages take? We’ve researched this topic as well to make sure you know the timeframes to get an official patent for your mobile app development.

How Long Does It Take to Patent an App Idea?

How long does it take to patent a mobile app?

The timeline for patenting a mobile app idea can vary widely, but here’s a general overview of the process:

Filing the Provisional Application: This step can be completed relatively quickly, typically within a few days to a couple of weeks.

Non-Provisional Patent Application: After filing the provisional patent application, you have one year to submit the non-provisional one. This period is crucial for further developing your app idea and ensuring it meets all requirements.

Examination: Once your non-provisional application is submitted, it enters the examination phase at the USPTO. This phase can take anywhere from 18 to 36 months, depending on the backlog and complexity of your application.

Issuance: If your application is approved, you will receive a grant. This can take an additional 6 to 12 months from the end of the examination phase.

Maintenance: After obtaining the status, you must pay maintenance fees to keep it in force. These fees are due periodically throughout the life of the document.

Keep in mind that the timeline can be influenced by factors such as the backlog at the USPTO, the complexity of your application, and any rejections or objections that may arise during the examination phase.

Becoming a mobile app patent example is tempting, but we’ve noticed it’s not for every business owner.

Why Patenting is Not for Every Product Owner?

This process isn't for everyone.

While applying your app idea can offer significant benefits, it may not be the right choice for every owner. It has its downsides:

  • App patent cost: Includes lawyer fees, filing fees, and maintenance costs. The entire process can cost $5000-$15000+.

  • No guarantee of approval: Patent applications can be rejected if criteria are not met.

  • Requires public disclosure: You must reveal technical details which may aid competitors.

  • Enforcement challenges: Infringers can be hard to detect and litigating is expensive.

  • Time constraints: The patent process can take years leaving you unprotected in the interim.

For many developers, maintaining trade secrets or being first-to-market may suffice for short-term gains. Weigh app patent cost vs long-term value before applying.

Blocking Crucial Resources:
The flip side of patent protection.

While these documents protect your intellectual property, they can inadvertently obstruct your own progress by limiting access to foundational resources that underpin your invention. Here are some examples:

  • Algorithms and code: If your patent applications describe specific algorithms or source code, you may not be able to use improved algorithms later without invalidating your claims. This can hamper adapting your software to leverage better code.

  • Hardware and platforms: Your invention may rely on certain hardware like smartphones or VR headsets. If those platforms evolve, your rigid protection may fail to cover the new technologies, even in the case of the app’s success.

  • Data and databases: Documents based on data analysis techniques can prevent you from incorporating richer data sources and newer databases as they emerge.

  • Research and discoveries: Documents granted early on foundational research can block others from building upon those discoveries with important subsequent research.

  • User interfaces: UI-related design patents may cover specific screen layouts and transitions that get outdated as mobile UI evolves. This locks you into outdated UIs.

  • Royalty stacking: When multiple holders control foundational technologies, combining those technologies may require paying costly royalties that hinder innovation.

  • Fear of litigation: Small developers may avoid expanding on existing protected technologies for fear of getting sued for infringement.

Overall, extensive patenting in a field can inadvertently wall off access to future adjacent innovations. This highlights the need to draft careful claims around your specific novel invention without overextending into foundational building blocks that enable future progress.

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How to know if the patent for your app idea has already been granted to another app?

The best way is to thoroughly search app patents through the USPTO and Google Patents databases to view published documents. Look for apps with similar titles, descriptions, inventors, classifications, etc. See if any closely matching entries were granted in your app’s niche.

Also, study the claims and specifications of each related document in detail to identify overlaps. Consulting patent attorneys can further validate your findings.

When should you file a patent application for your mobile app idea?

Ideally, attempt to patent an app as early in development as possible. This prevents any inadvertent public disclosure before filing, which can invalidate your rights. Filing early also gives you priority over others who may file similar patent applications later.

Finally, it’s wise to patent an app before approaching investors and buyers to maximize the value of your IP.

I developed my app idea as an employee. Can I still patent it?

If you created the invention as part of your employment, the rights likely belong to the employer, not you personally. However, some employment contracts allow employees to retain rights to inventions developed on personal time using personal resources. Check your employment terms.

I publicly launched my application last year. Is it too late to patent an app like that?

Yes, unfortunately, public disclosure over a year before filing patent applications serves as prior art that bars you from obtaining the status. However, consult an attorney as there may be exceptions.

Can I patent an idea for how an application should work but without the actual code?

No, you cannot apply just an idea itself without providing the complete details and “know-how” of your invention. The document needs to teach someone skilled in the art of how to build it.

Can I protect the name and logo of my application with a patent?

No, these cover functional aspects of an invention, not branding elements like names or logos. You can trademark your app’s name and visual identity for patent protection.

If my provisional application is rejected, can I still benefit from the filing date?

Yes, your rejected provisional application still establishes your priority date. However, you must make sure your subsequent provisional patent applications adequately address the reasons for rejection.


In conclusion, protecting a novel mobile app idea provides unparalleled protection for your intellectual property. While the process requires time and monetary investment, the long-term rewards of exclusive rights to your invention are invaluable. With robust protections, you can confidently commercialize and monetize your innovation for years to come.

Thoroughly researching existing entries, drafting quality documentation, and hiring an attorney set you up for success. For app developers and startups serious about securing their innovations, approval is a major milestone on the path to prosperity.

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