Mobile Apps and Intellectual Property
Mobile applications (apps) cover the huge part of digital economy market and they achieved enormous growth in the past several years. This branch of digital market is estimated to reach 6,3 trillion $ value in 2021 which is a vast growth in comparison to year 2016 where its value was 1,3 trillion $. Also the app developers are losing approximately 4 billion $ per year to app piracy and counterfeiting of apps.
By these statistics we just wanted to point out that it is extremely important to protect your app as much as possible on legal level. Intellectual property (IP) protection shall be as much important as development process itself. It shall be part of your business strategy alongside with marketing and other important processes. Otherwise you are loosing the value you have put in your project and possibly loosing even more value in future.
Also bear in mind that promptly chosen IP protection strategy can not only protect your existing value, but it can also add more value to your products. This is how successful projects works, as they recognize the value of their IP. Most small or medium businesses – 52% – in EU have noticed increased reputation upon registration of their IP, 39% have achieved increased turnover and 37% have increased their ability of expand to other markets.
The revenue and value you are geting from your app can be protected in various ways.
The trademark is the face of your app and like that it is perceived by the end user. It is something that sells your app and distinguish it from other apps. Properly chosen IP protection is thus essential.
You should consider trademarking your app name, slogan, logo, icons or other elements before launching your app. By this method you can avoid many troubles in the future, including potential financial and reputation losses. Prior similarity trademark search can help you avoid filing for trademark which is similar to existing trademarks.
How do you get additional value with registering, for instance, your app name? If people starts to associate your product with registered trademark, the trademark itself can quickly become very valuable intangible asset. Many trademarks related to apps have value in hundred of thousands and millions of dollars. Of course you can use this trademark value when negotiating with potencial licensee of your app.
It sounds like a sure thing for everyone who develops the product to register domain name for the name of the product. However, many devs try to do that very lately in the process and that cause them legal issues later on. If you come to register your .eu or .com or any other domain name after you release your product, you might find out that someone else has already registered your desired domain. Proving a bad faith here might be a long and costly process so be ready to register all your domain names before you launch your product in public.
Many businesses overlook the possibility to register their design in this area and thus they also unintentionaly avoid its power and advantages. Registered design protects different elements of your product in comparisson to trademarks, however it has plenty of advantages.
For instance, you can register the user interface or your icons of your app as design and thus you can become the exclusive user and owner of them. Another advantage of design is, that in most country the design procedure takes much less time than trademark proceedure. For instance EU intellectual property office (EUIPO) can register your design within 2 weeks. With this option you can obtain design protection within all the EU in less than month.
Copyright protection is very well know, and probably the most known IP right type to everyone. This fact can be tricky because too many people just rely on copyright and think that it is sufficient and „all-in-one“ way of protection for their app. The factual situation is in most cases different.
Some aspects of your app can not be protected by copyright and some aspects should be protected also by other means (trademark, design, patent …). Copyright is your „core“ IP right, but in order to have effective copyright protection, you shall supplement it by additional IP protection.
Upon the creation of work, copyright comes into existence automatically (according to most countries laws). Therefore you are not required to register your copyright to obtain copyright protection. Some countries, however, have copyright registration systems which allow user to register their work and by that app developers are able to easier claim their rights before authorities.
In 2020 there was also established a worldwide Trusted Digital Evidence system administrated by the World Intellectual Property Organization called WIPO PROOF. This system allows you to make a digital fingerprint of electronical file, proving its existence at a specific point in time. It is a simple to use tool and quite cheap solution to help any Startup to enhance their IP rights protection.
We have discussed only basic and most common ways of protecting IP from the app developer point of view. There are many other important legal tools which can help you protect your software such as patent, trade secret, data protection, due dilligence check, non-disclosure agreement, distribution agreement, end user license and other types of contracts.