How to protect your app idea isn’t any different from protecting your business. Only this time you have to safeguard something that could be stolen and potentially offer success to someone else that could have been rightfully yours.
The Flappy Bird game was an instant hit, however, it was even bigger news when The Guardian reported that around one-third of all the games released on the App Store within a 24-hour period were the clones of the original title.
Moreover, out of every top five free iOS games in US, four titles are said to be the Flappy Bird clones.
Apparently, the Google play store is still struggling with the prospect of clone problem with no solution to be seen in the near future. Even though Google’s AI is pretty powerful in its own accord, still it hasn’t done a great job in keeping out clones and copies from Google Play, Search, and YouTube.
While the company itself is bounded by the leniency in republishing rules and certain legalities that make it easier for cloners to bounce back, but how to protect your app idea is something that could be worked on.
Common types of app protection
There are three major types of legal securities you can acquire to protect your app idea. Each type of legal protection comes with its own range of expenses and complexity. Here’s a brief overview of each and why you should consider going for them.
Copyright—protection of the physical and intellectual aspects of your product
Through an official copyright, the authors of the original work are provided protection for artistic, dramatic, and literary and associated intellectual work. The copyright protection is applicable for both published and unpublished work.
Apparently, copyright will safeguard your source code, in-app copy, graphic design, and related elements. This type of protection is often sought as it is quick and inexpensive.
If you’re running a US-based company, you can get the entire process done through the US Copyright Office within a $1,000 amount. While the actual process flow is a separate discussion in itself.
Although tech giants like Google, Apple, etc. provide powerful security measures from their end, but jailbreaking a phone to extract the entire source code is no big deal. Moreover, only a few lines of the code could be altered and launched as a separate tool under the unauthorized party’s ownership.
This is why copyright registration offers you a legal resource to counter back if someone tries to steal your app or its source code in any way.
However, do note that besides the protection of physical and intellectual aspects, the copyright doesn’t cover your app idea within the protection measures.
Patent—excluding others from creating, using or selling an idea
A patent is a sole grant over a property right and is normally used for inventive projects. In US, a patent is issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Typically, patents are more powerful than other legal protection approaches due to its stricter, more precise requirements.
The purpose is to safeguard an idea from direct competitors in the market from creating, using and selling an invention on their own behalf. This takes us to the major question:
Is it possible to patent a mobile idea?
Yes, patent is possible as any mobile application is a single tool, but with various methods for interaction. Secondly, an app idea isn’t a tangle object, here the process of the tool will be taken as an invention. However, the app code isn’t patented as it itself is catered by the official copyright law.
On the other hand, you can patent a method or a process of the tool which undergoes an action to produce a specific result.
Importantly, do understand the fact that an app idea must fulfill some prerequisites to be qualified as a patent: it has to be an inventive, must be unique and new, and qualified to serve a particular problem.
As it takes time to develop and refine an invention, business owners or app developers may opt to file for a provisional. A standard utility patent tool done to secure a filing date, also it is cheaper than its non-provisional counterpart.
For a provisional application, the owner will be asked to submit the details about the app’s description such as complementary collaterals like flow charts, drawings, and illustrations depicting the core functionalities.
Some developers and owners prefer to distribute their tools through open-source licenses, regardless they have acquired the patent or not.
On the downside, a lack of patent won’t allow the developer to exercise any sort of control over what types of apps are distributed through open-source licensing.
How much does it cost to file a patent?
Generally, the type of patent you want decides how much cost you’ll incur in the process. Normally, provisional patents cost around $2,000 to $5,000, where you can create and launch your tool once you’ve filed this patent.
While a non-provisional patent, a rather lengthy, tedious process, costs around $10,000 to $15,000. Once the patent is filed, it is inquired by USPTO, which takes around one to three years to complete. The entity will review the filer’s patent and decide if it qualifies for acquisition and ownership.
Trademark—protecting the name or a unique representation of your app
Mostly companies are content with protecting the technology and processes of their products, and overlook the importance of assuring the name of their app too.
This is where you apply for a trademark over your app’s name—a unique term you may have come up besides millions of other apps already present in the app stores.
How do you decide your app’s name?
It’s time to be creative here, coming with a unique, yet simple name isn’t easy. If your app idea is strongly unique, a simple name or a common descriptive term may work out for you, something that is not present in the app stores for now, however, it will become more difficult to secure later on.
Remember, the more generic name you go for, the less likely the USPTO will permit only a single entity to use it. Although, there have been examples of various successful business tools faring well with a simple name. Still, new, unique and distinguished names stand the best chance of securing a trademark with original app names.
Filing for a trademark is a fairly easy, straightforward process and can be done within $200. To sort out any queries or confusions, you can always hire a professional trademark attorney in this regard.
After you’re done with the trademark phase, then move on to reserve the name on the app store, register your domain hosting, and brand onsite blogs, social media accounts, and other marketing minutiae.
To be continued…
How to protect your app idea is a 2-part series educating users on how to safeguard their app ideas throughout the process.
In this piece, we discussed the preliminary aspects and different approaches for protection. As for the 2nd part, we’ll discuss the actual steps to take for protecting an app idea.
Imran Abdul Rauf is a Digital Marketing Strategist, employed at CMOLDS, and specializes in content marketing, email marketing campaigns, lead generation, and other aspects of digital marketing. A content enthusiast by the day, and hardcore gamer by night, Imran is also a regular guest contributor at some of the top tech and digital marketing platforms.