How do I patent an idea for an App?

Discussion in 'iPad' started by RunOverProducti, Apr 24, 2010.

  1. macrumors regular

    Dec 26, 2008
    Hi guys,

    I'm not an app developer, but I have an idea for a App.

    What are the legal steps to protect my idea before hiring an App developer?

    How it all works, I know how to copyright, but I'm not sure how it works in the App world.

  2. macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
  3. macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2010
  4. thread starter macrumors regular

    Dec 26, 2008
    Thanks for telling me what I cannot do, but can you tell what I can?:rolleyes:
  5. macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    Make your app and then copyright it. Duh? :rolleyes: I answered your apparently poorly-worded thread title. Or you could just google it.
  6. thread starter macrumors regular

    Dec 26, 2008
    Yeah I know, everyone here "IS" english teachers...:p

    I'm not a developer as I stated in my original thread, so you expect for me to call one and just tell them what app I want to create? Very intelligent for an english teacher.
  7. macrumors 68000


    Feb 26, 2008
    Why don't you show us how intelligent you are by doing some independent research before broadcasting a request for something on a public board.

    You can start by opening a web browser much the same way you did to navigate to this site. Go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo, and enter "how to copy right an idea" hit enter and scan results.

    If that does not work for you try "intellectual property", (obviously I am being very generous with my choice of words here)

    That should put you on the right track and if for some reason it does not try the apps forum on this Webb site.

    I'll look forward to hearing all about your finished product if and when its ever released. Good luck!
  8. macrumors 6502a

    Jul 21, 2008
    Seattle, WA
    I don't think you can patent an "idea." You can only trademark the name, the images, etc.

    If your app becomes popular, some other developer will probably write a duplicate app and sell it for less. I've seen that happen a bunch of times with the App store.
  9. thread starter macrumors regular

    Dec 26, 2008
    First, why wouldn't I post on a public board?

    I could of done the google search (which I did), but I figured posting in here I would bump into someone that could explain to me how it works.

    I know how to patent a logo and all that stuff, I just wasn't sure for an App would be the same process, maybe is done through Apple itself.

    That's all. Thanks for the luck.
  10. macrumors 68030


    Jun 20, 2007
    Cranford, NJ
    I would ask an attorney. Preferably one who specializes in IP. :)
  11. macrumors 68040


    Aug 28, 2009
    The comments so far are not exactly correct.

    However, for a patent to be accepted, it must be more than an "idea." It requires you to explain in detail how the proposed idea would work. And I mean in detail. You cannot simply say "An app to do X."

    In addition, before you waste your time, you need to search for patents that already exist that are the same or similar. That also means you must search for any underlying components or functions of the app. This search at minimum will take 48-72 hours of actual work.

    If there are similar patents you need to determine how your patent could be different enough to warrant a new patent being granted.

    If your patent is rejected, yet you still think it should be granted, prepare for the long appeals process.

    This is not a light undertaking. It requires a lot of work and is often best to utilize a patent attorney.

    Chances are there is a patent but it is not something that has been implemented in any product.
  12. macrumors regular

    Apr 14, 2010
    Hong Kong
    What you need is not a patent but a Non Disclosure Agreement that would help prevent the developer to steal your idea. There is no way to completely prevent people from stealing your ideas but a NDA would probably be your best option.
  13. macrumors 65816

    Mar 23, 2009
    Start by doing some basic research (, if in the U.S.) and then hire an attorney.

    You cannot patent an idea, but you can patent an invention. Your app might be an invention, and thus might be patentable. Getting a patent is a complex, slow, and expensive process, however. It's not something you do yourself. You can get some quick protection with a provisional patent, but it still will require much time, money, and effort later-on. And you still need an attorney.

    You should protect yourself with a well-written developer agreement. You need more than just a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). At minimum, you need to have even any prospective developer sign an NDA. In fact, anybody that you discuss your idea with.

    Once you have chosen a developer, you need a written agreement specifying exactly what the developer is to deliver (e.g. including source source), what rights are conveyed, and what (if any) rights the developer retains.

    Once your app has been developed, you should formally register a copyright on the app and it's artwork. This is inexpensive, easy, and you can do it yourself. (But, still, it is useful to at least consult an attorney.)

    You may also find that there may be one or more trademarks that you might want to register. For example, your logo, a logo or some distinctive element or design within the app, characters in a game, etc. While not as expensive or as drawn-out a process as getting a patent, it's still not exactly cheap, and really isn't something you should try to do yourself. (For example, there are very specific ways in which you have to describe graphical elements in words. I guarantee, You Do Not Know How To Do This. ;) )

    Aside from all this, developers are expensive, especially in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. You may be tempted to use the various web sites that can hook you up with developers from around the world. While potentially saving you money, this exposes you to all sorts of risks, including - from a practical standpoint - unenforcability of any agreements you may make.

    Frankly, that approach is probably best for expert app developers, who know how to break-down app development into discrete tasks so that they can be partitioned-out to multiple developers each of which are not given the whole picture, and who have a pool of developers of known skill and a track record that they can use. This manages risk of both misappropriation and of non-performance.
  14. macrumors 68040


    Aug 28, 2009
    This is sort of a gray area. There are plenty of patents that are just well thought out ideas. In the realm of software there isn't much more you can do.

    That is why I said it can't be just an idea. It has to be very specific about the implementation.

    In reality the idea is probably not an app, but instead a function of the application. For example, Apple wouldn't patent "An application for managing photos," they would more than likely patent the various methods and interface elements driving that application.

    If patenting a method, that method must be described in pseudo code. Since the OP is not a developer, they would be at a disadvantage in that arena.
  15. macrumors 65816

    Oct 18, 2007
    You can't patent a logo.
  16. macrumors 6502

    Jun 4, 2009
    Las Vegas
    I agree with above (calderone). Also, I don't think you would be able to file a patent on an app since Apple has all the intellectual rights, TMs, and patents regarding the APIs, dev tools, platform, and the ability to use your program as it sees fit (last point prob not too relevant, but they can market it on TV and do what they want basically). They would most likely claim that anything innovative as a standalone app could infringe upon Apple patents and what not. Something like Mapquest and others utilize patents and technology they own to deliver the data to the app. The functions inside the app, apart from external server-side I/O's, functions, patents, etc..., would prob not be able to be claimed as an invention. Basically this is a more detailed explanation of what above poster was saying.

    NDAs are def key. Only go to people who have reputations too. They could possibly pass the idea to another dev, they mod the schematics so as not to be 100% likeness and claim as their own. Expect to pay a very very pretty penny to have it outsourced for dev. as well, especially if you have an idea that may be feature rich and could require independent server-side assistance.
  17. macrumors 6502a


    Apr 2, 2003
    Orlando, FL
    As mentioned above, you might have more luck (and less expense) treating your idea as a trade secret rather than something that's patentable. As well, patents have a limited life span (currently 20 years), and once your idea is released as an app, your patent will be pretty much useless anyway, because as soon as someone adds a modification, they won't be infringing on your patent anymore. As well, just because you have a patent doesn't really mean anything. I have taken both patent law and patent drafting, and the one thing that I really learned is that getting a patent is really only the first step. Once you have a patent, anyone can challenge it. Additionally, any time someone infringes on it, you have to affirmatively file a suit against them, and such suits are EXTREMELY expensive to litigate. Your goals can mostly be accomplished through an intellectual property attorney who specializes in contractual arrangements. As mentioned above, a very solid NDA is a good start before you even tell anyone about your idea. Another way to prove that your idea was first is to write it out and have it notarized by a notary public or mail it to yourself in a sealed envelope with your signature across the seal on the envelope. It's a super low-tech way of having something date-stamped, but it works.

    Also, definitely make sure that when you do have NDAs and developer contracts, you make sure that you make clear that you own the license to the output, and that the creator just made it as "work for hire" (which is an IP term of art). Additionally, as mentioned above, you can copyright the source code for your app, but you can also copyright any script that might be used in your app, such as if it is a game with a story line or something like that. That will provide limited protection, but it is inexpensive. Having a contract with the person you tell about your idea is the strongest form of protection. The court will look to that contract to determine the rights of the parties. Also, most states have adopted the UTSA (uniform trade secret act), which you can find out if your state has. This is another statutory protection for trade secrets, but it arises out of state law rather than federal law.

    I am an attorney, but I want to make clear that this is not legal advice and should not be treated as such. You should obtain legal advice from your own attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction that you have chosen based on criteria that you deem important. That is all!
  18. macrumors member

    Mar 13, 2010
    The only good advice in this thread is to TALK TO AN ATTORNEY. Not just any attorney, but one who specializes in Intellectual Property law. Intellectual Property is a complicated area and requires special expertise to ensure that your rights are properly protected. Yes, attorneys are expensive, especially IP ones, but unfortunately that comes with the territory. If you want to play with the big boys you have to ante up.
  19. macrumors 65816


    May 3, 2008
    Hampshire, England
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 3_1_3 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/528.18 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile/7E18 Safari/528.16)

    Better advice would be to post the question in the correct forum.
  20. macrumors 6502a


    Apr 12, 2005
    California, US
    Even if you could paten and idea, it wouldn't matter. You could make the app, release it, and end up only ever selling one copy to a person who then recreates in and sells thousands of copies. There is nothing you can do about it either.

    Good screenwriters understand this. You can tell your plot to anyone and everyone because at the end of the day (if you are a good writer), it's your writing style that makes it awesome.
  21. macrumors G3

    Jul 4, 2007
    Atlanta, GA
    Technically he told you what you can, not do.
  22. macrumors newbie

    Mar 3, 2010
    Great info! Thanks for that!! :)

    That was some great advice! Thanks, it's just what I've been looking for. :)

  23. macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004
    You don't want a patent, you want an NDA.

    See a lawyer.
  24. macrumors 6502a

    Dec 6, 2009
    I assume you're joking.
  25. macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004
    No, he's right, you can't patent a logo.

    (He's technically correct, which is the best kind of correct.)

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