Can you patent a concept for a website? How? 7 Answers as of August 11, 2015

My friends and I have come up with a really cool idea for a website, but we haven't found someone to help us build it yet. We are worried that we could end up getting the idea stolen from us by a programmer, since we'd essentially tell them all the ideas in order for them to build it. Can we patent the concept for a website? If not, what can we do to protect our idea?

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Gerald R. Black, Esq.
Gerald R. Black, Esq. | Gerald R. Black
In order to be patentable, the invention must be new, useful, and not obvious compared with all of the technology that preceded it. The U.S. Patent Office also grants Patents for "methods of doing business" should the business methods meet the above criteria. However, there is also a concern that the programmer may acquire the Copyright to the software that he/she develops for you. If you obtain the Patent and the Programmer obtains the Copyright, you would not have control of your own technology. You must have the programmer assign the Copyright to you in the written Work Order that you issue. You may be well-advised to seek the assistance of Counsel on this to confirm that you are the first inventor, that your Patent rights are secured, and that the Work Order secures you the Copyright created. We hope that this helps and Good Luck!
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 8/11/2015
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
The way to avoid giving away your concept before you get it on-line is to require everyone involved (including employees or subcontractors) to sign a nondisclosure agreement before letting them see what you have in mind. By signing this document, the person is agreeing that the specific concept is owned solely by you and that he or she can not use or copy the idea or pass it on to another party. You will also want to get the person you hire to sign a "work for hire" agreement that will transfer to you any and all intellectual property rights that may spring up from the work the person does. FYI: usually, but not always, computer hardware is patented and software is copyrighted.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 8/10/2015
Webb IP Law Group
Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
Possibly. It depends on many things and you would need to describe it in some detail before anyone can give you a sense of the possibility. It is not safe to post that much detail online, so you should talk privately with a patent attorney with experience in patenting software.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 8/10/2015
Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
Maybe not - since your website may not be patentable subject matter. US Patent Law Section 101 defines patent eligible subject matter as "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." Legal precedent has long established that eligible subject matter does not include laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. Currently, many computer inventions are being rejected as being abstract ideas. However, you may be able to obtain copyright protection for the concept of your website - visit the US Copyright website - for more information. Finally, have a good written contract with your website developer/programmer - before any work begins. You want to own everything - no rights are retained by the programmer.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 8/10/2015
Microtechnology Law & Analysis | Daniel Flamm
An invention that is useful for a website should be patentable, if it has not been publicly disclosed in prior art and if it is not obvious in view of prior art. Having said this, and based on the manner of your question, you need to hire a patent attorney to help you take the next step. Whether that makes sense, depend on whether the concept, if patentable, would be worth the cost for the process. Another way you might protect your invention is to treat it as a trade secret. In this case you will need to have an agreement/contract with the programmer spelling out rights and ownership of what you disclose and of derivative works/inventions. This should be far less costly, but it would not protect you from others discovering and patenting the same concept.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/10/2015
    Michael M. Ahmadshahi
    Michael M. Ahmadshahi | Michael M. Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Esq.
    You can and should definitely patent the website idea if the idea is novel and non obvious. To that end you should consult with a patent attorney and file a patent application as soon as possible. You should also use a nondisclosure agreement, commonly referred to as NDA, when discussing the idea with anyone including the programmer.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/10/2015
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
    A website would usually be a copyright. A "concept" is not patentable because it is not defined sufficiently. Also, a web site is generally not patentable because it does not provide some end result. There have been patents for companies that offer dating or selling items, but they are for how the data is matched.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/10/2015
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