Can you patent an app idea in UK?

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Have you had any app idea in your mind, and you are afraid of your app idea being stolen by someone? 

Fortunately, intellectual property rights are there to rescue you from all the worries. Patents are one form of Intellectual property that helps to claim legal rights to an invention. As very well known, patent rights are territorial and are governed by the specific laws formulated in the respective territories. Each country has a specific exclusion for certain patent subject matters and the degree of freedom extended to each field of the invention differs from country to country. 

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One of the most debatable fields of invention is software patents. Software patents are legal protection for invention based on software. As such, the programs per se (software codes) are considered as excluded subject matter in most of the countries. However, there are still certain aspects of the software application which can be patented and can obtain territorial protection. Also, the degree of freedom granted to software patents vary from country to country.  

Considering, that patent rights related to app/software vary from one jurisdiction to another, and not every jurisdiction such as USA, UK, Canada, India, or Australia, allows patents to be granted on the app ideas, therefore one should go through particular jurisdiction laws or consult with some professionals to know whether your app idea can be patented in that particular jurisdiction. Also, each jurisdiction has its prerequisites to be fulfilled to obtain a patent for an app idea. Countries like UK are stricter in terms of granting software patents. 

What are the requirements that needs to be fulfilled for getting a patent on an application in the UK? 

For getting a patent on an application/software in the UK, an app must follow three main requirements: 

The requirement of novelty (original or unique idea) because when it comes to the novelty part of an app idea, it is extremely difficult to prove. As in the digital world, most of the software codes are open sourced and while building an app idea, the inventor tends to utilize the open source for their invention. Even if the inventor builds the code from scratch, still the basic framework codes are available in some part of the open-source library. The way in which the user has interlinked the basic framework codes or the new way in which the basic framework codes are used determines the novelty point.

An idea is capable of being considered as invention (i.e., when it satisfies non-obviousness) which means that an app idea has an inventive step is to describe that the app idea can solve a technical problem. If the problem to be solved is non-technical in nature, then it may not be considered inventive. The improvement of the app idea over the existing version can be proved only when we can explain that there exists a technical problem in the existing version and the new app idea is created to solve that specific technical problem. 

An idea proves to be useful (i.e., utility) and is merely not a shelf idea which means that an app idea when released into the market, should prove to be useful for the intended users. The apps created for mere recreational purpose cannot be considered patentable as there is no technical advantage or effect to it. Its presence does not help in solving any problem existing in the market and thus any idea created should be utilizable in nature.

The very same eligibility criteria prove to hold good for software patents as well. In countries like UK, the eligibility criteria for getting a patent granted for an app idea need to be examined and understood carefully to avoid unnecessary rejections. To get a patent for an app idea in UK, it is important to draft the claims of the patent in such a way that it is not rejected under ambiguity (i.e., vague subject matter) or under excluded subject matter (ex: programs per se).  

It is always advisable to link the outcome of the software codes on the applied hardware and real world. This will clearly help in showing that software code is merely not a set of program lines which can be run on any machine. If the software code can influence the real-world hardware parameters and if the invention claims the effect of those hardware parameters, it is easier to convince the examiner that the app idea is indeed able to provide a solution to an existing problem present in the real world. For example, the software or app for playing a game i.e., ludo cannot be patented whereas the software for controlling autonomous vehicles can be patented. Therefore, apps that perform processing on electronic data and affect the operation of some hardware devices can be granted a patent in UK. 

In conclusion, an app idea can be patented in UK if the above explained patent criteria are satisfied accordingly and the nuances regarding the claim drafting are followed carefully. This will help is escaping the rejection under ambiguity and excluded subject matter and paves way to the enjoyment of patent rights for the app idea. 

Thus, if you have an idea for a mobile or desktop application and looking to file a patent on the same in UK jurisdiction, we  TT Consultantsmay help you with our Patent Drafting & Illustrations service, where our qualified and experienced subject matter experts with technical and legal knowledge develop in-depth understanding of the technical field of the invention and prepare provisional & non-provisional applications. We also help our clients in preparing Office Action Responses (OAR)  for various jurisdictions including UK. 

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