One of the most frequent client inquiries RPL receives is for assistance in protecting mobile applications. The proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices has put significant processing power in nearly everyone’s pockets or purses. That hardware provides an excellent platform for software of all kinds. Mobile apps have spurred innovation across a wide range of genres, including games, photo and video, music and entertainment, social media, health and medical, finance, and more.
Mobile apps can be exceptionally valuable, but it can also be a difficult market in which to gain market share; it takes a combination of a quality product, a sticky user experience, marketing strength to get the app in front of the relevant users, and more. A thoughtful intellectual property plan can help put you in a position to best capitalize on your app.
With the exponential growth and expanding coverage of mobile app technology into different practice areas, patent protection may be a critical tool to give your business a leading edge. Mobile app technology is constantly evolving, calling for prompt protection of your area of expertise if possible before a competitor encroaches on your space. In many cases, patent protection is a necessary step to attract investors, which allows you to grow the business and fund the software development before the app hits the market. Patent protection also provides you with the option to license the technology instead of, or in addition to, building out the business.
Like all software patent applications, however, patentability for mobile apps often faces an obstacle in the patent eligibility analyses set forth by recent case law. Due to the recent changes in the USPTO analysis of patent eligibility, many mobile app patent applications have recently been rejected as being directed to abstract ideas, which cannot be patented. Common examples of abstract ideas relevant to mobile app technology include methods of organizing human activity, mathematical relationships, and “an idea of itself” (such as mental processes that can be performed by a human mind).
Being mindful of the patent eligibility concepts during product development and the patent writing process offers the best chance at obtaining patent protection. Consulting with a patent attorney during the development phases can help identify the aspects of your technology that are most likely to be protectable, or can direct you to protecting your technology through trade secrets instead of patents.
Patent searching can be useful to help you assess both the likelihood of securing patent protection (through a patentability searching opinion) and to help you assess the likelihood of infringing existing patents (through a freedom to operate search and opinion).
If patentable, utility patents are most often used to patent mobile apps. Working with a patent attorney that has experience with mobile app technology can help you quickly focus on the key protectable innovations you have developed and the best strategies for patenting those products.
Trade secrets protect proprietary information that you are able to keep confidential. In the mobile app context, trade secrets can be used to protect an algorithm or other aspect of the technology that is difficult to reverse engineer as well as the valuable data collected by the mobile app.
Unlike patent protection which is limited to 20 years, trade secret protection lasts indefinitely, as long as you take certain steps to maintain the secrecy of the technology. In other words, the trade secret protection lasts until the information is disclosed, unintentionally or not. The decision to protect your mobile app technology through either patent protection or trade secret protection depends on a number of factors including the ability to reverse engineer and the ability to maintain secrecy through NDAs and other company policies and it can be valuable to discuss your strategy with an IP attorney.
Branding is another avenue for establishing the IP rights of the mobile app. Unlike patent rights, trademark rights do not expire so long as the mark is continuously in use with the associated goods and services and renewal documents are filed periodically. While the patent landscape changes over time due to the constantly evolving state of the art, trademark rights established early on may continue to build and strengthen over time.
Branding raises risks of trademark infringement. Trademark searching is an important tool to assess the infringement risk when bringing the product to market. It is also helpful when establishing a product or brand name to ensure it is distinct and not confusingly similar to other names in the space so it may be registered as a trademark itself.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in tangible media. In the software space, the original work of authorship is the custom code written for the app. The tangible media is the memory into which the code is stored. As a result, any original coding done for a mobile app is protected under copyright law.
Although copyright protection is inherent in the code, the copyright can (and should) be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office contemporaneously with the launch of the app to maximize the protection and guard against piracy.
RPL’s attorneys have a strong background in software IP protection, particularly in mobile applications. RPL’s managing attorney, Patrick Richards has written, licensed, and enforced software patents his entire career. Since Patrick started RPL in 2009, the software industry has been RPL’s busiest practice with some of its biggest successes.
RPL protects IP for financial institutions and other businesses providing financial services, including trading services, payment processing and more.
RPL works with clients to protect their mobile app IP with strong and enforceable patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
RPL protects wearable technology inventions from smart watches and fitness trackers to innovative clothing and accessories and medical products.