Can you patent a mobile app based idea? of course. However, there are caveats involved.
Tip: did you know — it may be advantageous to file design patent applications along with utility patent applications for a mobile or web app? Check out our animated video tutorials to learn more.
Let’s consider a hypothetical (inspired by a real patent application, filed by a big law firm for a big technology company). You come up with an improved idea of a ride sharing mobile app (similar to Lyft or Uber), but your mobile app provides unique features not available to either — let’s say an enhancement on the Uber pool or Lyft line feature, where your app can automatically coordinate a shared ride with members of your favorite social group, all heading to the same destination (think a meet up at your favorite club in or near your hometown). Seems pretty cool, right? So you decide to file a patent on your idea.
You go to your patent attorney and provide him/her your disclosure:
The mobile app can match ride sharing users all heading to the same location. It does the following:
- It identifies each member of the social group and their an initial location. Thereafter it can estimate that the members of the social group are attempting to meet at a particular destination location.
- The mobile app then generates a proposed transportation route that extends from the initial location and terminates at the destination location. The app determines a proposed transportation route for a set of users.
- A first member is identified (from where the trip is to begin) and once the first member accepts the route, a notification is sent to the second member from the set (of users) informing him/her that the route has been initiated.
- If the second member accepts the route, the driver receives a notification to initiate a second stop, and so on.
Of course you provide other details and augment your disclosure with flow charts, etc., but you do not disclose the most important step — that is — how a computer performs the actions of identifying the users, estimating a route, informing the members of the route, etc.
The patent office rejects your application holding it to be an abstract idea that was implemented on a mobile device (a computer), as it did in the real patent application . Subsequently, just like the real Applicant ( the big technology company) you abandon the application.
Unfortunately, in the land of Alice , such patent applications get rejected (and eventually abandoned) on a daily basis. Big technology companies (or big law firms) are not immune from the high standards the patent office expects from software patent applications.
The lesson here is: before attempting to file a patent (at least before pursuing a non-provisional filing) for a mobile app, please ensure you have a technical write-up on how a computer (not a human) performs the actions that you propose to be your invention. If you are unable to provide such information, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
The reader is also reminded to follow these tips when selecting a patent attorney.