How to Patent Mobile Apps

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Traditional protection of Mobile Apps

The source code, on-screen layout and graphics that form part of a mobile application is protected by Copyright, but what about the underlying principle of operation of the mobile application? You can protect your mobile application in terms of the South African Patents Act…

Mobile Apps Patent Protection

The South African Patents Act excludes a “program for a computer”, from the definition of an invention.  However, there has not been any litigation in South Africa dealing with the exclusion of software from patentability. So we have no clear indication of the interpretation that the courts would use. This means that our courts may be influenced by rulings from other countries, such as the United Kingdom.  The UK Office has accepted patents and claims to computer programs since 1999.

There is, however, a provision that the application must produce a technical effect when run on a computer (or mobile device) to render it patentable. As with all other inventions, mobile apps must be new, inventive and have a use or application in trade, industry or agriculture. To overcome objections as to whether the mobile application involves an inventive step, it may be helpful to determine what the technical problem is which has been solved through use of the program. The presence of such a technical contribution is usually sufficient to establish that the claimed subject-matter has a technical character and therefore is indeed a patentable invention.

Filing of mobile apps Patents

A mobile application can often be described as a technical method of performing a technical act. When we describe a mobile application in a patent specification, we often describe the technical method, rather than the software as such. Therefore, it is our view that mobile applications can be protected by means of a patent application if the specification is drafted by a patent attorney. Furthermore, the South African Patent Office is a non-examining patent office. This means that patent applications are not subject to examination for inventiveness, but merely on the formalities. It is therefore unlikely that the Registrar of Patents will reject your patent application because it contains claims to a “program for a computer”.

However, this does not mean that the patent granted for your invention is going to be valid, but it may be worthwhile to file the application anyway, rather than taking the risk of exploiting your invention without a patent. If you contact us, we can supply you with an outline which can be used to set out the information described below for patenting purposes.

Details of the invention
We need a full, detailed technical description of the invention in order to draft a patent specification. If you have a prototype or drawings of your invention, this would also suffice, together with a description of the functions it performs and the distinguishing features of your invention. It is of critical importance that we include as much detail in the patent specification as possible, to ensure that all embodiments and features of the invention are protected in the patent application.

Details of the inventors
In terms of the South African Patents Act, we need the full names and residential address of the inventor or inventors that contributed inventively to the invention.

Details of the Patent applicant / Patentee
Patents can be filed in the name of a person, such as the inventor, or a legal entity, such as a company. As such, we need the full names of the patent applicant, or patent applicants and their residential address(es), or if the patent applicant is a legal entity, we need the name of the entity and its registered address.

Details of our client
In terms of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, we need to identify who our client is. Therefore, you need to supply us with your full contact details. In this regard, the information needed should comply to the requirements of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act.

How much does it cost to Patent a mobile app?

The first step in protecting your mobile application is to file a South African provisional patent application followed by patent applications in foreign jurisdictions such as the USA, UK, European Union members and other countries of interest. This will allow you to secure your rights to your invention in foreign jurisdictions.