How to Patent a Service Idea

How to patent a service idea is a business innovation that requires that the applicant be eligible under federal rules to utility patent. Intellectual property laws in the United States allow for three patent types: design patents, plant patents (horticultural), and utility patents.

Other Ways of Protecting Your Business Idea

Where an invention or innovation is not patentable, the progenitor of an idea may still protect business assets with copyright or trademark.


The creation of original art, music, written works, or videos considered to be “a mano” (by the hand) of the innovator are covered by copyright laws. The U.S. Copyright Office registers creation of original works for a small fee. Copyright does not entirely protect concepts, ideas, methods, or systems.


The distinguishing characteristic of a good or service, a trademark protects colors, names, symbols, sounds, or words associated with those features of an individual business, celebrity, or entity. Unlike patents, trademarks are renewable, with eligibility based on recent commercial use. Trademark infringement is detriment, and can result in costly litigation. Unclaimed names can be registered for trademark online at no fee.

The Two Types of Patents

There are two types of patents in U.S. intellectual property law; the first being the Design Patent, assigned to new design innovation. The second type of patent, the Utility Patent is the most relevant to a served based business.  

Types of Utility Patents

Depending on kind of invention, “process” or “improvement” to be used in a service business, type of utility patent reflects the phase of development of an innovation to be registered. Utility patents may be registered for up to 20 years; impacting entitlement to use and value flowing from such a model.    

Why Are Business Method Patents Important?

Business methods are a form of "intellectual property," and are protected under U.S. patent law. Business method patents are valid for 17 years from date of patent registration. This prevents use of the patented idea without permission from the original patent holder. USPTO classifications for patentable business methods are strictly defined, with the most common class of business model being financial data processing, narrowly defined as processes associated with finance, price determination, and related business management practices. Business model patent classifications also include agricultural, education, and gaming innovations.

Machine-or-Transformation Test

Coinciding with the rise of information technologies segments of the marketplace, has been the increase in number of patent applications for business methods, including service ideas. Between 1997 and 2007, applications for business methods increased from 1,000 to 11,000. The USPTO Interim Guidelines for Examination of Patent Applications for Patent Subject Matter Eligibility now outline the rules to business methods patents, and precisely the terms of computer software patent.

Verify Your Idea Hasn't Been Patented Already

Visit the Patent and Trademarks Office website to conduct a patent keyword search to verify if a business service idea has been registered. The site also offers information about similar patents in the same category.

Consider Hiring a Patent Attorney or Agent

An attorney specializing in patent law will have passed a patent exam in addition to the bar exam in their state of practice. Authorized patent agents have also passed the patent exam. An investment in the patent registration process, hiring a patent attorney or agent is one of the best methods of protecting your idea and any future enrichment resulting from its use. Patent application preparation by a professional will eliminate the risk that important information has not been omitted. If not hiring a patent attorney or agent, consider a free consultation at time of application.

Complete and submit your application using an online application

To complete an online application, visit the website. Applicants should submit:

  • Fee (a list of current fees can be obtained at the website)
  • Data sheet
  • Claims (business model attributes to be protected)
  • Description of the invention
  • Drawings

Protected or Patented?

When researching how to patent a service idea, remember that intellectual property law affords copyright of creative expression or concept indefinitely, yet not protection of use-value. A patent will protect a business model, including a service idea or invention for a limited period. Determining the estimated value of an invention as a business asset in financial terms should be the goal of a utility patent registrant seeking protection of an original or updated invention.

Do You Have a New Invention Idea?

The America Invents Act (AIA) narrowly defined the ownership of invention as a patent filing. File a patent application prior to public disclosure of a new service idea or invention.

If you need help patenting a service idea, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.