They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s all well and good if someone copies your new outfit. But imitation is a whole other issue when it comes to online innovation.
Let’s say you’ve just come up with a new online business idea and you’re convinced it has the potential to be the next big market disruptor, like Uber or Airbnb. Can you patent the website, app or software? The unhappy answer is that it depends.
Websites, as a whole, are not patentable. However, there may be certain aspects of a site that qualify for patent protection. In the U.S., some businesses have had success patenting a software process while others have secured patents for business methods. For example, Amazon holds a patent on its one-click checkout. Others hold patents on specific, technical algorithms or other unique functionality made possible by software code. But patents are difficult and expensive to obtain. You could be locked in the patenting process for years, only to find out your application failed.
Alternative ways to protect your online ideas include copyrights, trademarks, and confidentiality agreements. These tools can be used to protect the content of your site as well as your brand, logo, tagline, and product names. A copyright can also protect the source code used to develop your site. (Code itself is not patentable.) Confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements present different ways to protect your concept. They can be used to deter employees or vendors from copying your idea or sharing proprietary business information with a third party.
Software and app innovations can revolutionize the way your company operates, adding significant business value. Don’t let patent challenges stop you from getting ahead of the competition. Consult with the intellectual property attorneys at Hutchison & Steffen who can advise you on the best methods for defending your innovation.