If your invention has a patentable subject matter, then you should investigate filing a patent application. Such processes must meet a high bar, for example it is advised (and preferred by the Patent Office) that the method either incorporates a tangible machine or transforms some input information. If you plan on selling this product, you should investigate whether other patents already exist because you might infringe one or more of them, which is not a good business strategy. Is it worth the expense? That is up to you to decide. Patents can be very valuable to a business.
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You should try to get a patent only if you are serious about getting into this business, either directly or through licensing to an existing company. You can patent its design or its ornamental aspect as a design patent. You can also patent the mechanics or the inner workings of the phone, which would be an utility patent. Yes, you would compete with existing patents in the sense your idea should be novel and inventive over all of them, each patent by itself or in combination. Good Luck to you!
The foregoing does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship exists between me and you. Please consult a qualified attorney before making any significant decision.
A phone app could be a utility patent.
Whether you should patent it depends on your business. If you believe your total sales over the lifetime of the product exceeds the cost of the patent, then it might make sense to get a patent.
The answer provided is only for general information purposes and does not constitute legal advice.
Obviously, there are a lot of very successful app companies out there, and they do get patents and file patent applications on aspects of their apps. For example, follow this link to see a listing of some of Zynga's patents.
If this link doesn't work, just go the the USPTO's patent search website and do an advanced search in the patent database with "an/zynga" as the search criteria.
I would think that most of the patenting you might do will be of the utility patent type. Although it is possible to get a design patent on, for example, the aesthetics of the initial splash screen shot for your game. Google has a design on the ornamental make-up of their search home page.
If you are trying to get into the business in a big way, like these companies, then patent protection may make sense. If not, then it may be more about wanted to get your name on a patent, instead of making financial sense. But you never know how important a patent might be to you, until you don't get one and it becomes too late to apply.
You should have a more detailed discussion with your own patent attorney.
Best of Luck!
Legal disclaimer: This answer is not legal advice, but is for informational purposes only. My answer to your question does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. Please contact a licensed attorney in your area for competent legal advice.
A cell phone application is software -- that is, a computer program. You need someone to write the code for that program and then you need to register the copyright in that code. You need to brand the program by naming it something nifty and then register your trademark rights in that name. Yes, a computer program can be patentable subject matter. But a patent is not your best, or most economical or most time-efficient, means to protect and then exploit your [yet to be created] product. See an intellectual property attorney.
The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.