Intellectual Property Rights: What Mobile App Developers Should Know
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Protecting Intellectual Property Rights: What Mobile App Developers Need To Know

Hussain Fakhruddin - March 6, 2014 - 0 comments

A smartly designed, engaging mobile app is an intellectual property that is owned by its developer company (unless, of course, it is created by an individual). Professional app developers need to be aware of these tips to protect the intellectual property rights of their applications.

Professional mobile app developers cannot afford to ignore the importance of protecting the intellectual rights of the applications they create. A couple of months back, a case of copyright infringement of Android apps was brought to light by the US authorities, with charges being brought against the four alleged criminals. Unless you get all the legal rights on your app concepts and designs, a competitor might simply plagiarize your idea – and eat into your potential clientele. Apart from the creative and technical perspectives, mobile application development has a legal side, and we will give an overview of it here:

  1. Settle ownership issues from the very outset – If you own a mobile apps company, this is something you need to look into at the very start of app development processes. While brainstorming for viable ideas and concepts, make it clear to others that the final rights on the app would remain with the company – and not to any individual developer. The IP address of the standalone PC/computer network would also be a company asset. There should never be any disputes over personal claims.

  2. Be wary while using open source codes – Thanks to the availability of well-stacked open-source program codes and libraries, mobile apps can now be developed quickly and relatively easily. However, indiscriminate usage of open source resources would not be advisable. Often, such open source software comes with certain stipulations and user-restrictions. These, in turn, can compromise the privacy of your apps’ intellectual property rights.

  3. Get a trademark for the name of your apps – To prevent other Android and iPhone application development companies in India or overseas piggyback the popularity of your applications, a registered trademark is essential. It would keep your competitors from choosing identical (or overtly similar) names for their apps. What’s more, the trademark would protect your app icons and logos from being randomly copied as well.

  4. Respect the clauses of license agreements – According to an OpenLogic survey sometime back, it was found that over 70% apps flouted the basic license agreements of the software they were developed with. Remember, you cannot claim the rights on any portion of the code – that has been already published as open-source. Never use any programming code/IDE online, without going through the license documents first.

  5. Keep a written copy of the property rights document – It would be too naive to assume that, just because a you have developed a mobile app – you automatically get all the rights on it. Such intellectual property agreements always have to be finalized in writing. In case you are planning to hire a third-party mobile app developer, make sure that (s)he is prepared to provide the necessary non-competing agreements.

  6. Get your app copyrighted – You need to be on your guard about your original app ideas getting blatantly copied by rival mobile app companies. This is precisely where the importance of copyright protection comes into the picture. Of course, you have to start working on the idea, before applying for a copyright. The entire process of acquiring a copyright on an app does not take long, and is not associated with big expenses either. Of course, you can’t get a copyright on an idea you have only just thought of – there has to be something more substantial!

  7. Do a thorough research before naming your app – Both Google Play Store and Apple iTunes have well over a million apps each. Leading mobile application development companies invariably have a research team, which goes through the trademarks of each of the products at the app store. This, in turn, ensures that the name you choose for your application is not ‘too similar’ with that of an already existing app. In addition, you also need to stay away from names that might hamper the chances of your app getting approved (on iTunes). The recent controversy over the word ‘Flappy’, after the Flappy Bird app was taken down, is a classic example in this regard.

  8. Get your app codes registered – If you do not bother registering the original software codes used at your mobile apps agency, you are basically inviting trouble. In the absence of registration documents, you cannot sue a rival firm – even if it wilfully plagiarizes your app designs/features. You should also find out about the extent of statutory damages you can claim, in case such violations do come to your notice.

  9. Get your best apps patented – Given the rather high costs involved in getting patents, it is neither necessary nor feasible to get such protection for all your applications. Go for patents only for the apps that you genuinely believe would be able to generate (and sustain) high download figures. To keep the expenses under wraps, you can hire a qualified attorney for acquiring the required patents. Copying patented apps is not something fraudulent companies look forward to doing – for the penalties and monetary compensations can be huge. Your best apps would remain well-protected!

  10. Implementing company-wide trade secrets policy – What about the apps for which you have not got patents? The intellectual rights on them (particularly during the early stages of app development) can be protected via company-wide trade secret agreements. The trade secrets should be framed in a manner that, all types of unauthorized public disclosures about the app under production are banned. Promotional pitches, issued by the company, should not fall under the trade secrets policy, however.

Mobile application developers may also have to provide non-competing agreements on apps designed for third-party clients. Make sure that you have taken proper protective measures for the intellectual property rights of apps – before submitting them to the online stores. Developing unique and engaging mobile apps call for considerable creativity and expertise – don’t just let anyone steal your concepts and get away with it!


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