Yes, patents provide the broadest protection on software because they protect a principle of operation or concept, for a maximum period of 20 years. A patent gives you the exclusive rights to exclude others from copying, using, importing, and selling a patented innovation. It is a powerful right that can only be obtained when an innovation can be regarded as contributing to technical progress. See 'Obtaining a patent on software'.
There are various forms of IP rights available to protect your software apps. Some rights are automatically obtained upon creation, other rights are obtained by simple registration or are filed and subjected to examination before a right is obtained. The most relevant types of protection and the important points of interest are: patent, copyright, database law, trademark, design right.
No, that is not possible. In principle, all patent applications are published after 18 months. The only way to prevent this is to withdraw your application prior to publication. It can therefore no longer result in a granted patent.
Patent-granting procedures can involve a considerable investment. As a patent is essentially a national right, both the granting phase and the maintenance procedure need to be separately completed in each country.
Firstly, there are costs involved with drawing up and filing the application. These often range from 6,000 to 10,000 euros, including official fees. In certain countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, you do not usually need to incur any additional costs until the patent is granted. Once the patent has been granted, you will have to pay maintenance fees each year.
However, in many countries, including Germany, a granting procedure involves additional costs.
Anyone who would like patent protection in multiple European countries usually chooses a so-called European patent. This is a cost-effective and uniform granting procedure that is centrally administered via the European Patent Office. This procedure applies to all countries that are signatories of the European Patent Convention. The costs of preparing and filing the application and the procedure up until the granting of the patent can vary considerably, depending on the complexity and length of the procedure. For a European patent-granting procedure, these costs are usually in the region of 20,000 euros. Once a European patent has been granted, you have to choose the participating countries in which the patent should be valid, where you will have to deal with the necessary formalities (this is known as validation). For instance, many countries require the patent, or at least the patent claims, to be translated. You will also have to pay maintenance fees each year. The validation fees in Europe can quickly rise to over 1,000 euros per country. That is why many companies choose to limit the number of countries where a granted European patent is valid, for instance, countries with the largest potential markets or countries where their main competitors have a manufacturing facility.
Similar considerations are involved in granting and maintaining patents in large countries outside of Europe, such as China, Japan or the US.