Effective Ways to Protect Your App Idea From Being Copied

How to protect an app idea? Mobile applications have become an inalienable part of our daily routine: starting from the sleep statistics, tracking our morning workout activities, taking a taxi to work, ordering groceries, and finishing with evening entertainment, movies, ticket booking, etc. The time when we truly took interest in new releases for our devices is (unfortunately) gone. According to Statista, the average number of new iOS only releases per month as of June 2021 is between 34 and 38 thousand! So, we are physically unable to keep up with all the new stuff happening in the app markets.

As for developers, the process of finding unique ideas is getting more complicated as chances that such a concept already exists are high. But, if you were lucky enough to come up with an excellent idea, you should protect it by all means!

In this article, we will answer common questions from startuppers and give you proper guidelines on:

  • how to protect an app idea: copyright tips described in details
  • how to get a patent/a TM
  • what to expect from contractors to successfully launch your product
  • what aspects to take into consideration during the launch so competitors won’t steal your concept

Reserve Your App’s Name

If we speak about Google Play Market, developers can upload numerous applications with the exact same name. However, when you launch an iOS product, you have to reserve the name beforehand. It is pretty easy:

  • Log in into itunesconnect.apple.com profile.
  • Choose “My Apps” unit, after that move to “Add New App” step.
  • Upload the application bundle and then push “Create”.
  • Done! The name is officially reserved.

These simple rules allow developers to stand among competitors and defend their brands. 

Potential concept thieves will try to simplify
and come up with another not-so-engaging name to use.

Cooperate with a pro team

While you direct your attention towards an actual release phase, do not forget that app developers may become the biggest problem from the very beginning. In order to save precious budgets, young startuppers often decide to collaborate with small agencies without proven cases and honest reviews. Of course, scammers are rare but unfortunately, there were incidents when the idea was stolen by hired software engineers before it was copyrighted. Decide if such risk is worth it. When choosing a trustworthy contractor for mobile app development, keep these aspects in mind so the whole process would run smoothly without unexpected turns.

Decide where to search

There are plenty of platforms offering a directory of companies and development services. But if you would like to reduce the risks, look for specialists on trusted platforms such as Clutch, LinkedIn, GoodFirms, etc.

Check the expertise

Make sure a chosen agency has a relevant portfolio on their website, both for iOS and Android app development services. Find cases similar to yours to predict a possible result if you choose to move forward with them. Search for clients to be sure they are real and keep operating successfully, download mentioned applications to see if they operate according to the description.

Meet the team

Not always physically, but at least virtually. Check out the company mission and its origin story (usually it is on the About us page on a website), read more about the founders and team members, check the company’s social media channels. Try to find its employees on LinkedIn to be sure they don’t hide their names/faces/have relevant experience in related industries. Trustworthy partners should have their corporate values and their good reputation is what makes them successful on the market. Such agencies won’t allow releasing a bad product as they think not only about the client but about themselves, too.

Get an honest feedback

You can also contact some of the agency clients to quickly chat about their experience of working with company X. Don’t worry about bothering anyone — it is totally normal to ask for references in any industry. Proper networking saves time and money!

Non-disclosure agreement

One of the first steps of defending your intellectual property (an app concept) is to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) between you and the development company. It is a common practice so company lawyers are definitely familiar with it. When the document’s template varies in different agencies, the main principles remain the same. Any project-related information cannot be revealed to any third party during the development process and a fixed term after the release. Usually, it is described in detail what exactly cannot be disclosed to avoid any misinterpretation and what consequences (fines, legal responsibility) are waiting for those who decide to leak confidential details.

Patent application

Some people associate patents with historical inventions like a microwave or a motor. But the truth is your application concept or even a piece of code can be patented, too. It may seem a bit complicated due to many factors:

  • it takes up to 3 years for the patent to be issued;
  • it’s pretty expensive to get (sometimes it is even more expensive than an actual development);
  • there is no longevity (terms actually vary, but according to the World Intellectual Property Organization, patent protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application);
  • only exceptional functionalities are patentable.

To patent or not to patent to protect your app idea

The answer is not as obvious as you may think and sometimes you don’t even have permission to do it. In particular regions or countries, the software is not patentable at all. But even if it is allowed in your area, the procedure is costly and time-consuming as we described above. Moreover, you should actually prove your invention is useful and uncommon because NOT ALL applications are approved!

You should also remember that the code is constantly changed/improved so it would be useless to patent it eventually.

If you have analyzed all pros and cons and want to move forward with a patent, hire professional consultants or lawyers as the whole procedure is tricky. Only people who work with it on a daily basis can do everything right and save you not only time and money but also a good night’s sleep.

How to trademark an app

The main aim of TM is to restrict other developers from copying your name, logo, icon, and related text content which stand for your brand. Moreover, you are able to also put a TM on some particular feature names. Please note that you can’t trademark code pieces or functionality, there are other instruments for that.

A trademarked part has to be unique enough otherwise such TM is totally useless (a responsible organization simply won’t approve it).

Trademark the app’s name

You have to do it to avoid any legal issues if there are similar products on the market or if you are the first one on the battlefield. A registered TM will also help your potential users to quickly find you — not your cheap copies — and to be sure they won’t be scammed. So, how to trademark an app?

Choose a unique name

At the very beginning you should determine if you are moving with a creative short option or a descriptive one (for example, “Home4U” vs “Rent an apartment”). The second option allows users to search for your product more easily, however, the trademarking process may be more difficult in this case: if you are planning to use general terms/words, etc., chances your TM Office won’t approve it are increasing.

A unique abstract name solves this problem, nevertheless, it can also be problematic for users to find out about your mission. For example, “Home4U” can be a game, a home security tool, a couch-surfing platform so its purpose is unclear from the first glance.

Explore other names in your industry

It would not be easy to do it as there are hundreds of apps on the market. There are also a few different “classes” that TM offices usually apply to applications to easily arrange and distinguish them. Cover all your bases by searching through each class that could possibly be in the same trade channel.

Work with an experienced trademark attorney

Hire professional consultants specializing in trademark-related questions not to waste precious resources. Such attorneys know best about relevant regulations in your region so you avoid underwater rocks. Moreover, they usually use better instruments for submission and for further examination than the ones available on TM websites.

Protect the Logo and Brand Identity

There are plenty of lookalikes on the market when it comes to brand identity. The solution for an original rights owner is to make a claim, there are two “aces” for that: actual copyright ownership and proof the other copycat had access to copy your identity and did it. The first is clear for the law, however, you might have problems proving the second. That is why it is significant to create your unique image and protect it by TM. Speaking of time frames, such registration usually lasts for a decade and is renewed later.

Submit an application

The attorney gathers all obligatory papers and sends everything to your local TM office along with a filled application. Get ready to wait — it takes up to 8 months for the organization to review it and make a decision. That is why it is so important to hire an excellent consultant who prepares documents correctly. That way you would not have to re-apply the rejected docs.

Use your power

When you hold an approved application in your hands, you are ready to release it without the fear that it might be stolen. After the launch, your task is monitoring search results to make sure no copies appeared. The good news is popular app distribution sources are also interested in preventing TM violations. They monitor the fakes and remove them from the store.

If you go global

As an app owner, you should decide if you want to be present on the domestic market or go international. It is a crucial decision when it comes to copyright issues as your domestic rules can differ from other regions abroad. International law and following treaties do not 100% prevent owners from ideas theft. But obtaining a TM gives your product an enforceable global legal presence anyways, helping app markets to fight copyrights violation.

Conclusion

In the world of constant information-stealing, it is hard to learn how to protect your app idea. But the good news is it’s totally doable. Just follow the steps without skipping them: sign an NDA, collaborate with reliable developers, register the copyright. All these steps will decrease the chances of an app concept being stolen.

Read more about mobile app development in our article The Main Steps to Creating a Mobile App: From Ideation to Launch. And feel free to check out other articles in our blog!