This is a common question as APP's become more unique, complex and integral to our daily lives. The good news is the answer is yes, as APP's are considered a component of interaction (it operates on a mobile phone and connects to a server that stores and/or processes data that is used on the mobile device and controls its function in a specific manner).
To initiate the process of patent protection, any potential inventor must make sure that their mobile application meets USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) criteria. The main criterion is that the application must be novel meaning that the application should not use any methods or processes that have been previously patented, published or used. In an effort to ensure that an APP idea is novel one should use PatFT (USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database). This database includes full text for patents issued from 1976 to the present and TIFF images for patents from 1790 to the present. When conducting a patent search independently, inventors may use key words related to the purpose and content of their invention but it is highly recommended to have a registered patent attorney conduct a search as they can evaluate existing applications, in detail, and provide a legal opinion about filing options for your APP.
The main patent applications utilized by inventors are provisional and utility applications. A provisional application secures a filing date of the patent application and provides a one-year patent-pending status. It also provides the APP inventor time to determine the potential success of the product and if they would like to invest more time or capital in pursuing the second option, a utility (non-provisional) application. The utility application is reviewed by a patent examiner and may be issued as a patent if all the requirements for patentability are met. This application also allows a person to maintain their patent pending status until the USPTO makes a recorded decision regarding the status of the application. Also, if a person files a utility (non-provisional) application one year or sooner after filing the provisional patent application, they maintain their initial provisional application filing date. Maintaining this date is highly important because USPTO utilizes the first to file standard when reviewing patent applications.
In addition to patent protection options for APP's, another consideration for APP exposure is open source licensing. This refers to the process through which developers make a source design or code which is available to consumers under defined conditions. This is a potentially risky decision because once a developer shares the content, specifically without a patent, the developer has no control over how the APP may be modified or resold and this may be done with no credit to the initial developer.
With any business, knowledge is crucial in making decisions that put the business in the best position to succeed. With the ever-growing potential of APP development, whether you're a start-up or an independent inventor, strong consideration regarding patent protection is viable.