How Do I Legally Protect My Mobile App?

March 06, 2017

Everyone is looking to offer that next top-selling app, but it’s not as easy as it looks. First, you have to come up with an idea that is innovative and hopefully not already taken. Once you have that idea in mind, the next hurdle is bringing that idea to fruition while avoiding theft of your hard work. Here are some tips on how you can protect yourself.

Tip #1: Prepare a Non-Disclosure Agreement

One basic way to protect yourself is to have a standard non-disclosure agreement prepared. To get your ideas rolling, you will have to work with many different people. It is fantastic if you can only work with people you trust, but usually that’s not the case, so don’t take any chances! A non-disclosure agreement will require anyone who works with you to discuss your confidential information only with those who need to know the information, such as yourself and team, and to not share the information with anyone else.

To strengthen your protection, consider a non-competition agreement as well. Unlike a non-disclosure agreement, which protects confidential information from being shared, adding a non-competition agreement would prevent anyone who has worked with you from competing against you to build the same kind of app. This agreement would be particularly useful when your ideas are in the early stages and can be easily recycled by others in other areas.

Check out a sample Non-Disclosure Agreement here!

Tip #2: Keep Records of All Your Work

When a dispute arises, the first thing that the court looks at will be your records. What this means is that you need to take notes and make records of everything you do. Intellectual property claims are not easy to prove and evidence is limited so it doesn’t hurt to leave a trail along the way. Make sure that your team is also doing the same. You would be surprised at how far a little note can go and it is the easiest way to protect yourself during any lawsuit.

Intellectual property can also be legally protected. What you must first do is decide what kind of protection you need and then decide whether you would like to register/apply for protection in one or more of these areas. Although formal protection via registration or application may not necessarily be required, it can help to (i) evidence the fact that you own the idea, and (ii) provide notice to any other app developer who may also be thinking of the same idea.

There are three (3) areas of intellectual property law that you should be familiar with (consult a lawyer to find out what type of protection is available in your situation):

  • Copyrights protect original creative works of authorship, such computer programs in a fixed medium. Keep in mind that a copyright does not protect each and every element of the work. A copyright only prevents a person from copying constituent elements of the work that are original. The length of a copyright is the life of the author and 50 additional years.
  • Patents protect new inventions and may take some time while you’re in the process of working on your app code or software. Patents are for socially-valuable products and the disclosure of how an invention is made can help other entrepreneurs to create different and non-infringing inventions. One drawback is that patents can be expensive, but may apply for up to 20 years.
  • Trademarks protect words, names, and other symbols which are used to distinguish your app or services. Others are restricted from using the trademarked items for another business, especially if there is a possibility that it will confuse customers about the products or services that are being provided. Trademark protection lasts for 15 years and can be renewed.
  • IP Transfer is the most common way to protect your intellectual property. Generally, company founders will have their employees, developers or other inventors involved in the creation of a product/service sign an IP Transfer Agreement. The Agreement’s purpose is for employees, developers, and or inventors to permanently transfer all their intellectual property rights associated with the product/service to the company. Click the link below to view Clausehound’s standard IP Transfer Agreement.

Tip #3: Don’t be intimidated!

Creating a new app is incredibly overwhelming and the fear of having all your hardwork taken away from you surely doesn’t help. Start with a non-disclosure agreement and take careful notes. As your app takes form, consult a legal expert on what you need to do next. Then focus your creative energies on developing the next brilliant app!

The Clausehound Small Business Library contains a variety of agreements that can be used to help protect your intellectual property rights!

Transfer of Intellectual Property