Legal Guide to iPhone App Development Part I
How to Protect Your App from Being Copied
App development is a fun, fast-paced, and exciting business. But just like other businesses, it comes with serious legal issues that developers must be aware of. After all, what developer wants to spend significant time, money, and resources building an app only to have it rejected, or worse, pulled from the App Store for alleged legal violations? That’s why careful navigation of the legal landscape in which app development operates is essential to launch and maintain a successful application – and why we begin by explaining what steps you can take to avoid having your new app idea being stolen or copied by someone else.
Confidentiality issues often come up in the tech world because of the innovative nature of the industry. People are reluctant to openly share their ideas or expose their intellectual property to possible competition. Therefore, app developers should consider using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when dealing with any outside parties that are likely to become aware of confidential information.
What is an NDA?
A non-disclosure agreement is a contract to keep a secret and is often used when two parties want to meet to discuss an opportunity involving the exchange of confidential information. In the context of app development, this would be the person who came up with the app idea and other developers, designers, or copywriters.
- Names the parties
- Outlines the confidential information
- Lists conditions that would be legal exceptions to the agreement
- Spells out the obligations of the party bound to secrecy
- Dictates the term of confidentiality in years
- Must be signed by both parties to be binding
It should be noted that an NDA is not a guarantee that your idea is 100% safe, but it does still provide a level of protection. NDAs serve as evidence that you took steps to protect your confidential information, and it will also make the other party think twice before stealing or sharing your idea.
In addition to NDAs, there are other measures that developers should take to protect their work. These include obtaining trademarks to protect app names, company names, or logos, and obtaining copyrights to protect any written or artistic works (including source code, content, and designs) as will be discussed below.
2. Choosing an Application Name
Selecting an appropriate name for a new software product is always a challenge, not only for creative reasons, but also because you want to make sure that you can obtain a trademark in order to protect the name of your app.
So what is a trademark and how do you get one? A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or device that identifies to consumers the source of a product, and allows a trademark owner to distinguish their products from the products manufactured or sold by others. Therefore, if you want to obtain a trademark on your app name, then you will have to make sure that it is a distinctive and non-descriptive name that is not similar to any other trademarks currently in use.
To make sure that your app name is sufficiently distinctive, it is important to check for similarly named applications. This can be accomplished by looking through the App Store for similar names, checking with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which hosts a database of trademarks that are registered, and of course using Google or another search engine to find existing trademarks.
Once you have decided on a good name for your app, you should register your trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Federal registration of your trademark gives you several important advantages, but the most important benefit is that you will put others on notice of your trademark use and, hopefully, avoid potential conflicts before they start.
3. Protecting the Content of Your App
Developers of iPhone Apps must, like any author of a creative work, protect their works against infringement by others. In the United States, copyright ownership is automatically obtained upon the physical creation of a copyrightable work (i.e. an app) but in order to assert your copyrights against an alleged infringer in court, you must first obtain a copyright registration. Accordingly, it is highly recommended that software authors obtain a copyright registration for their work.
Obtaining a copyright registration for a software work is fairly straightforward. The U.S. Copyright Office has implemented an electronic filing system that greatly increases the speed and efficiency of preparing an application, so all you have to do is go online and register.
Protecting your work from being copied is all about the preventative measures you take to keep it safe. So, if the above steps are followed, and developers take the time to obtain NDAs, trademarks, copyrights, and of course, are discreet in whom they choose to share their ideas with, they can place themselves in a position where their work is least likely to be copied.
Click here, for Part 2 of this article.
Photo By: Jorge Quinteros under Creative Commons License.