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Alright, with more than 1.2 million apps on the app store, it's become increasingly difficult to find new app ideas that don't already exist. My question is; can simple app concepts that aren't original or revolutionary be patented or copyrighted? By simple, unoriginal and not revolutionary I mean toDo list apps that let the user assign a level of priority to tasks for example. So can apps such as this one be patented or copyrighted for their idea or concept or are they something that cannot be copyrighted? If they can, how long do these copyrights last? My logic tells me they can't, take dating websites or social media websites for example, they're all to a certain extent the exact same thing. I'm looking forward to your answers, thanks a lot guys and gals!

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Yes, mobile apps can still get patents and copyrights.

Copyrights aren't actually on-topic here on Ask Patents, so I won't get into those too much, but in brief, a copyright is on an artistic work. If your artwork looks different from others (and that includes the appearance of an app), you can get a copyright. I don't know the times off-hand, but they last dozens of years, on the order of seventy or one hundred. They're fairly literal, though, so it's pretty easy to get around a copyright if you want.

Patents are a little different. Patents last twenty years from the date of filing these days. A patent is on a novel, non-obvious invention. A simple to-do list probably won't have anything patentable behind it. But your other example of a dating app might. If a dating app company developed, say, a new algorithm for matching members, that could very well be considered non-obvious and novel. Of course, I can also imagine a "simple" to-do app that introduces some new way of sorting or inferring to-do items, and that might be patentable.

So, no, you probably can't "patent an app," but you might be able to patent certain workflows within the app. Just as long as nobody's done it before, and someone with experience in the field wouldn't come by it without "undue experimentation," it should be fine.

Admittedly there's a lot going on right now in the world of software patenting, and some will argue that you simply can't patent software. But some things are going through, so it's worth thinking about.

  • Thanks, that makes sense and I have a better understanding of how patents work. It's good to know that an app concept can't be patented, only the way it gets to the end result. Thanks! – John Jan 26 '15 at 14:27

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