Updated July 14, 2020:

Wondering how to patent a website idea? While you can't just get a patent on an entire website, you can obtain a patent on specific processes identified on the website. For example, a website is generally made up of several different parts working together. This can include design elements, codes, text, images, sounds, videos, as well as other various components. There may be certain parts of your website that qualify for patent protection.

How to Patent a Website Idea

If you want to learn how to patent a website idea, it is important that you understand the steps necessary to protect your website idea from others who may try to profit from your idea. For example, a utility patent is the most common type of patent. It covers the functional aspects of an invention.

In order for an invention to qualify for patent protection, it must be useful, new, and non-obvious. This means that it must have some sort of purpose or otherwise be useful to potential consumers. It must be new, which means that the invention cannot be similar to another invention already patented. Lastly, it must be non-obvious, meaning that it cannot be an obvious combination of other inventions. These three factors — useful, new, and non-obvious — hold true for website ideas too.

Before patenting your website idea, you'll want to ensure that your idea qualifies for patent protection. You can do so by searching the United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. On this site, you can find lists of website ideas that may not qualify for patent protection. Most importantly, your idea must be practical and straightforward.

After you've determined that you are qualified for patent protection, you can begin the patent application process on the USPTO website. You will have to file a patent application with the USPTO, along with all required fees. Keep in mind that, in the application, you'll have to prove that the website is unique and not merely a duplicate of another website. You should be detailed in your application, as this is a software-related patent application, which is different from most other types of patents.

To patent your website idea or invention, you must write claims that detail what you want to protect and your rationale for needing protection on this type of intellectual property. You'll need to be careful with these claims because patent laws change often, especially with regard to software and other quickly-changing technology. References covering software claims are available for consultation.

You'll also be required to provide reasons as to why you are applying for protection, why it deserves protection, and the benefit of obtaining such protection. Make sure you include diagrams and drawings that are relevant to the website idea, which can be uploaded electronically if filing online. Once your application is complete, you'll need to convert the entire application, including the drawings, to PDF format before uploading to the USPTO website.

While your application is being filed, owners of websites or software and business ideas must protect those inventions from being stolen or exploited by other people who are out to profit from others' ideas. Protecting your intellectual property should also keep your customers from being misled by what is being offered. Mistakes in this regard can ruin any chances you have of profiting from your inventions and ideas.

If you receive any correspondence from the Patent Office, you need to respond to it right away, answering any questions or giving all of the additional information they request.

Provisional Patents for Websites

A provisional patent application is filed with the USPTO and establishes an early filing date, but doesn't amount to a formal patent application unless and until the applicant files a non-provisional patent application within the 12 months subsequent to filing the non-provisional patent. A provisional patent application is both less detailed and less costly. Immediately after you file your provisional patent application, you can indicate that your website idea is patent pending. During this time period, you can develop your website idea even further and turn your provisional patent application into a formal non-provisional patent application.

With a provisional application, you'll want to prepare diagrams and drawings of your website when filing the application. When drafting the diagrams, consider the user interface itself, the software-generated process, and the administrative screens/codes/software used to maintain the website:

  • The term “user interface” refers to what users see while visiting the website, and you will need to document how this interface looks and operates in various user situations.
  • The software's processes for creating this user interface need to be described in detail as well; this may involve flowcharts, system diagrams, database diagrams, and more.
  • “Back office,” or “back end,” refers to the administrative screens that are used to maintain the website, add content, and make updates and changes. This will not be visible to the end user, but only to employees and developers. Despite this, it is no less important than the “front end,” or user interface.

Since there are many unique business processes involved in your website, you want to keep each one distinct, showcasing the unique methods and processes utilized and how your website came together. The more specific and detailed you can be, the higher your chance of obtaining patent protection. Always be mindful that you can hire a qualified patent attorney to assist you with preparing your application. You can even hire a professional to assist with the drawings, flowcharts, and diagrams; this person may be able to better illustrate your website and form a persuasive and cohesive outline.

Software Patents

The USPTO has determined that software can be protected by a patent in certain circumstances. U.S. companies can apply for patent protection of innovative processes that exist on their apps and websites. These business methods are patent-qualified, as several companies, including Amazon, have secured patents for specific processes identified on their websites. With the ever-growing changes in technology, companies are competing with one another to find new and creative ways to increase profits and sales while eliminating the hassle and length of time it may take to purchase products on these websites.

Patenting software is a topic of significant controversy in recent years. It has been suggested that patenting software inhibits innovation, rather than allowing “open source” software that other developers can build upon.

Recently, many patents have been given to internet-based companies for what is referred to as “business methods.” These are sought when special software is developed for doing business in a new, innovative way. Since technology-based businesses are extremely competitive, it is increasingly important to protect software innovations that can increase the company's market share.

Amazon's “One Click Checkout” is a good example of a business method that is eligible for patent protection. This was challenged by Barnes and Noble, who employed a similar checkout system on their own website. Amazon and Barnes and Noble ended up in court over this software technology.

Patenting may not be the best method of protecting your intellectual property with regard to a website and an internet-based business. While certain parts of your business method may be well-protected by a patent, it can cost a lot of money to obtain a patent. They may also take several years to be approved, and there's also a chance they may not be valid or enforceable.

For this reason, it's usually large companies with deep pockets that find it worthwhile to seek patents. If you are running a small website or internet business, you may find that other methods of intellectual property protection are better suited to your particular situation.

Copyrights to Patenting

The concept of copyright is different than the patent itself. In simple terms, you can't copyright the concept itself, but you can copyright the design of the website and the code that runs the website. A copyright is generally a specific expression — i.e. text, photography, music, etc. The code of the website falls under the text category and is copyrighted the moment the author writes it. Therefore, copyrights don't generally need to be registered.

The patent covers both inventions and processes, so the copyright may result in a software patent or business method patent. But be mindful that patents can take up to several years for completion. Therefore, once you can claim a copyright, you'll want to have any pertinent records available to apply for a patent as soon as possible.

Again, remember that if you have a good website idea, others will want to copy it. But the idea by itself cannot be patent without also defining the processes that the idea will use to achieve the end goal. Also, the process itself will need to be unique, which can be rather hard to prove, since some methods used on your website idea are probably already being used on other websites.

Once you have proven that your website idea is unique, you can apply for the patent. However, if your application is rejected, you'll have to argue your claim by providing additional proof as to why it should, in fact, be protected by a patent. If you are unable to furnish additional proof, you may want to consider hiring a patent attorney who can assist you in the process.

Protecting Ideas

Ideas on their own cannot be protected by a patent or a copyright. Therefore, if you have a general idea for an innovative website or software process, it won't be worth much on its own. Good ideas do tend to be copied, however, so it's worth seeking protection as soon as you have something of value to protect.

Because of how the internet and the web are structured, it is rarely possible to turn an idea into a working process without using methods that are already in use elsewhere. Therefore, you can expect there to be many other websites using those same methods. Even if you were successful in obtaining a patent or a copyright for a website using commonly available methods, the fact that other sites used them first will make yours unenforceable. It will be your unique combination of methods that implement your idea and make it worth seeking intellectual property protection.

While most companies can probably find a business process or piece of software on their website to patent, companies should keep in mind that it is very time-consuming and costly to obtain patents on website ideas. There is no guarantee that the patent application will be successful in the end. For smaller businesses, other types of protection can be sought that may be more appealing than a patent. However, for large companies, such as Amazon, Samsung, and Panasonic, filing for patent protection is the norm.

Patent protection is very important for companies wishing to create long-term value in their company. Not only does the website idea or business process provide your company with a competitive edge, but it is often crucial for specific business functions, assisting the company in its daily business operations. For that reason, it is a good idea to consult an experienced lawyer to help you with your IP protection.

While your patent application is in process, there will likely be several notifications and requests from the Patent Office. Usually, you will have only a short amount of time to respond to this, anywhere from one month to six months. It's important not to overlook this correspondence.

There are seminars and workshops you can attend, but you just won't be as trained or well versed in this area as a patent attorney is. A patent attorney can make the process go more smoothly. Most importantly, a patent attorney will do the legwork for you, ensuring that you have a well-drafted application to increase your chances of receiving protection.

If you need help learning how to patent your website 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.