Are patents as important to companies that offer services over the web as they are to other tech companies?

Yes, they are important. With that being said, your service would first have to pass some tests. Keep in mind that if you’re granted a patent that it is ultimately your responsibility to protect your legal rights related to your patent. So, you’d need a plan to determine how you’re going to find out if someone is using your patented service as their own without being properly licensed (if you plan to offer licensing an option) and what you’re going to do to enforce your legal rights.

There are three kinds of patents, but since you’re a service, we’re only going to look at two: design patents and utility patents:

1. Design patent. With a design patent, you are looking to patent the way that your service is designed or delivered. Amazon has a patent on their 1-click ordering because of the way it works (that may not be their only patent – I am just using it as an example). So, with a design patent, you’re looking to protect the way your service is designed or even how it is delivered to clients (or both). When a design patent is issued, it is usually granted for 14 years.

2. Utility patent. Utility patents are grouped by categories. It can be a process, a machine, manufacture, a composition of matter, or an improvement for an existing idea. Your service may fall under more than one category. I say this because computer software is a process and also falls into the machine category. As a simple example of a utility patent, consider pharmaceutical companies. They create drugs (and sometimes other items) and apply for utility patents to protect what they make. They don’t want any other company to have the ability to Utility patents are generally granted for 20 years.

Let’s talk about the tests that I mentioned earlier that will affect whether you’re able to get a patent granted for your service.

1. There can’t be an existing patent for it. You’ll need to do a search on patents.

2. Your idea must be considered novel. It has to be different. It has to be new. Remember that there is a separate patent type if what you’re doing simply improves on an existing process.

3. What you do can’t be obvious. Your industry will be examined to determine if what you’re doing is considered not obvious to the average person in your industry. This means not obvious to someone with your skills.

4. Can what you do be explained? You must be able to write out your process in a way that someone with your skills could take what you’ve written and apply it.

If you believe that your service passes those tests, you will want to maximize the chance that your patent will be approved. The best way to do this is to work with an intellectual property attorney (sometimes known as a patent attorney) to help you with the application process. The process can be convoluted at best. Without properly completing your application, you could be denied. LawTrades is a legal marketplace and we provide affordable solutions for your patent attorney needs. We also have a service called Micro which allows you to ask one of our patent attorneys a question for a low flat rate and you’ll receive a detailed answer within 48 hours. Hope you check us out!