Social media patents are patents for specific parts of a social media network and not the idea of social networking (which is too broad to be patentable).

Patents and Social Networks

Specific areas of a social network can enjoy patent protection as long as they meet the criteria for patentability. You'd have to specify a part of the social network you want to patent. An inventor can't simply discover something. He or she must develop and present an “inventive concept” that turns an idea that's not patentable into an application that is.

In the United States, the patent office awards patents based on a first-to-file standard, so the first person to file for a patent will likely receive it, even if he or she wasn't the first to invent. That's a significant change from the previous standard, which awarded patents on a first-to-invent basis. This change took effect in 2013.

Inventors who don't file for a patent first can lose their rights to that patent. You can also lose patent rights if you fail to file an application within 12 months of either of the following:

  • Public disclosure, or sharing the idea with other people 
  • Selling the invention to the public

Someone can file a patent application for your idea if you wait too long to take action.

Although inventors in the U.S. have a grace period of 12 months in which to file for a patent after making an invention public, many other countries don't offer this same grace period. In most other places, inventors who make their creations public without filing patent applications forfeit their rights to a patent.

If you need time to develop your idea further, work on marketing, and raise funds, you can file a provisional patent application. This secures your first-to-file standing.

The Importance of Patent Protection

Knowing the rules about social media patents helps people keep their competitive advantage with any new technology they've created. It also helps them avoid committing patent infringement on someone else's creation.

Patent owners enjoy protection for their inventions that excludes a third party from using, making, or selling their products. Patent protection lasts 20 years from the date an inventor files a patent application.

Because patent information is made public, it benefits society at large by offering full disclosure of the technology in an invention. This encourages innovation and the development of alternative and complementary designs. To protect your intellectual property, it's recommended to file early and often.

Should You File a Patent for a Social Media Application?

There are no limitations on who can file a patent for social media technology. While major social network providers like Twitter and Facebook hold patents related to the industry, other entities might want to patent technology related to social media. This includes the following: 

  • Businesses that create design applications to use on proprietary platforms or with third-party providers 
  • Public relations or marketing agencies that design these types of applications for their clients 
  • Game and software developers who enhance their products with social functionality

Creators file social media patents with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office in the United States. Businesses can file with foreign governments as well, but they'll have to check the patent criteria by country because it differs depending on location.

Once a person files for a patent, it typically takes two years or longer to get the patent. However, the inventor immediately has a “Patent Pending” status so that competitors are aware that a patent is in the works. This designation showcases a company's innovation. This is very important in the business arena today, since patents for social media are big news. 

Whether a company wants to get a patent or defend itself against patent infringement claims, it should thoroughly understand the social media technology it's developing.

With social media only growing in popularity, expect the number of patents related to social network technology to increase. If you've developed an innovative technology, it's important to protect your rights to it as much as possible. This will prohibit other people from profiting from your unique design. Plus, it won't put you at risk for infringing on someone else's patent if they're able to file first.

If you need help with social media patents, 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.