Can You Patent a Mobile App? Yes — and Here’s What You Should Know

Mobile apps are integral to everyday life, providing smartphone users with everything from entertainment to productivity tools and services. While the mobile application user may not realize it, it takes quite a lot to create a mobile app, starting from conceptualizing an idea to transforming it into a functional one.

As a result, the question of whether mobile apps can be patented has become increasingly relevant. The answer is a resounding yes. If you have a unique app idea that you believe is worth patenting, this guide highlights everything you will need to know about patenting mobile apps.

Understanding a Patent

A patent is an exclusive right to profit from an invention granted to an inventor by a government authority. The reasoning behind patent protection is to allow an inventor a head start in profiting from their ideas.

Patent rights are granted under intellectual property law that also covers other IP rights, such as copyrights and trademarks. Mobile apps are patented under utility patents, one of the three main patents. The other two types are design patents and plant patents.

Eligibility for Patenting

While you could patent your mobile app idea, not all ideas are patentable. The first step should be determining if your app meets the criteria for patenting. An invention is eligible for patenting if:

  • It is novel and non-obvious. This means that your app must be significantly different from other apps in the market and offer a non-obvious solution to a problem.
  • It is useful. The app must have a specific problem it is addressing and be effective at solving the problem.
  • It is clearly described in the patent application.
  • It is important to understand that while an app is patentable, you cannot patent the codes used to build it.

Before applying for patent registration, it is best to conduct a patent search to establish if your app is eligible. This process involves going through your registering agency’s database to check for similar patents or pending applications. Also, you will need to check international patent databases such as the WIPO database to be sure that a similar idea is not registered in another country.

Patent rights are granted on a first-to-register basis, so if you were the first to come up with a mobile app idea, but then another party comes up with a similar idea and files for registration, they will acquire the patent rights to the idea.

Filing a Patent Application, e.g., in Canada

Countries will have different patent filing processes and agencies responsible for registering patents. In Canada, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) stipulates the processes and eligibility for registration following Canada’s Patent Act and Patent Rules, which are part of the broader IP laws.

There are three main options for filling in patent registration in Canada. In-person registration, mail, and online registration through CIPO’s website.

Online registration is the most preferred option since you do not have to do much, and it is significantly cheaper than the other options. Upon successful registration, you will receive a patent certificate that acts as proof of ownership of patent rights.

Scope of Protection

Patent rights do not last indefinitely. In most jurisdictions, patents run for 20 years. In the years that patent rights are in effect, the patent holder has a legal right to prevent others from profiting from their inventions without their consent.

After the registration period lapses, the details of their invention become public, allowing other entities to create similar products or improve on the initial product without infringing on the inventor’s rights.

Patent protections are limited to geographical boundaries. This means that registering your patents in Canada will limit your protection in Canada. You may also enjoy protections in countries that have entered into IP treaties with Canada.

If you wish to enjoy global patent protection, consider registering with international IP bodies such as WIPO, which gives protection in over 190 countries.

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