Essential IP for app developers

Essential IP for app developers

I hear, all too often, that ‘apps can’ be patented’, but this is not necessarily true. Even if your app is not patentable, that does not necessarily mean that we cant place at least some valuable intellectual property around it, to protect your investment and give you a head start when you launch it. Read on for your quick guide to IP for app developers.


Computer programs per se are not patentable in the UK, Europe and much of the rest of the world. But that does not, by any means, mean that computer-implemented innovation is not patentable at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. A significant proportion of patents being granted around the world are directed to computer-implemented systems and methods of some sort. Take, for example:


The fitness app Strava uses GPS activity data to allow users to track their activity, and they have a European patent (EP3144703B). This patent protects the processing operations used to generate trail network maps from a number of GPS recorded activities.

What is patentable?

In order to be patentable, a computer-implemented system or method must have some sort of technical advance or advantage. So it must represent a technical improvement over what is already known, rather than, say, an improved method of doing business, displaying information or performing a mental act.

So, for example, say you develop an app that receives as its input, photos from your camera or gallery and acts to reduce their data size (so that the computing overhead for storing or transmitting them is reduced) without losing resolution. If the method for doing that is novel, then you may be able to patent the method.

Another simple example might be an app that can automatically identify, capture and store invoices received via email. Then extract key data from those invoices, enter that key data into a diary system and, either remind you to pay the invoices as they become due, or even deal with payment automatically via a link to your bank account. This is a method of doing business, which is specifically excluded from patentability. But if any of the methods for achieving this (e.g. the method of invoice recognition or character recognition, say) is technically novel (i.e. it hasn’t been used for anything else before), then key elements of the app may nevertheless be patentable by focusing on those novel technical processes.

It’s always worth checking!

The examples are virtually endless. But my point here is, don’t automatically dismiss your new app as being unpatentable. It is always worth checking with a patent attorney. But make sure you do so before disclosing the new app to anyone except in confidence.

Other IP for app developers

Even if your app isn’t patentable, there are other potentially valuable IP rights that could help to protect your market share and revenue stream.

Registered Designs

For example, a registered design, which can be used to protect your user interface(s) (i.e. the way the app looks to the user).  Even moving or animated parts of a user interface, such as user innovative user interactions, can be the subject of a registered design in many major jurisdictions, including the UK and the EU, and the potential power of this type of protection should not be overlooked.

Trade Marks

Trade marks (e.g. the name of the app) and especially the logo that people will recognise on the app store amongst numerous other apps can be registered to prevent the same or similar marks being used for the same or similar products.


Copyright protects the software code itself. It also protects any original artistic works (including animated characters, icons and videos, etc.)  Even artistic works created whilst using the app, for example, screenshots of gaming positions during play of a gaming app, attract copyright.  Copyright in the UK arises automatically, as soon as a qualifying artistic work is created. But it is important to know it is there and what rights it gives you. We also recommend that you mark various aspects of the app with a ©, the name of the owner of the copyright, and the year in which it was created.  For example:

© Strachan IP Ltd 2021

Trade Secrets

There may be elements of your app that could be described as a trade secret. For example, a novel algorithm that performs one of the functions of the app could potentially be treated as a trade secret (if it is not accessible or visible to the public) and protected by the Trade Secrets Directive.

Help is available

Developing an app usually requires a significant investment in terms of time and money. You may want to explore what IP rights you could use to protect that investment. Do you need any assistance in this, or any other IP, matter? If so, please do book a free initial consultation by emailing,uk or visit our website at

Strachan IP

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