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How To Protect Your Mobile App Idea

March 11, 2011

Mobile application development like all technological implementations is subject to intellectual property (IP) issues. In these competitive times IP is a concern for anyone starting a mobile business. Here are some points to assist you.

Don’t Forget the NDA

Ask your attorney to draft a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Exchange a signed NDA with every party whom you decide to reveal your idea to.

Explain Your Idea Creatively

Try to explain your idea while protecting the ’secret recipe’, the money-making core of your business. Your app developer is an exception. Imagine going to the doctor and hiding some symptoms of your problem.

Select Protective Measures

Consult your attorney whether you need protective measures such as a trademark (protects a banner, logo, look and feel, name) or a patent. Copyright law only protects the ‘originality of expression’ and not the ‘function’ or ‘underlying idea’ or a product. Hence copyright alone is inadequate to protect the commercial value of your app concept and you might need to apply for a patent.

Consider Patent Application

It is generally advised that patent applications be limited to significant inventions and concepts with commercial value. Issue of a software patent may take two to three years after application. As far as mobile application software is concerned a patent would protect the concept of the mobile device being used to achieve a certain result by applying a particular method rather than the source code per se.

Hire a Reputable Development Company

Find a good, well established and responsible mobile software development company. Review their website, previous projects, client feedback. Talk to their clients. Reputable professional services companies build their business on integrity simply because there’s no other sustainable way. They are not out to cheat you, but others might be.

Ensure Ownership of the Product

Go over the mobile application development‘s company’s contract and ensure IP rights are granted to you as the sole owner of the final product. Ask the developer about any third-party products and/or software libraries incorporated into the product, and make sure to check their licensing agreements.

Control the Distribution

Make sure you upload your app to the various app stores from your own account, rather than let the development company do it from theirs. Register for an account in your name, give them temporary access and change access rights later.

Leave Some Functionality Out

If your app is good expect knock-offs. Leave some unique functionality out of the first version and launch new features distinguishing your app from the clones. Users download two or three similar apps and test to determine which are worth keeping. If you roll out new features and functionalities relatively often your chances of staying ahead of the competition increase.

Get the App Out!

Your focus is launching your mobile application! Protecting your precious idea is important, but more important is getting the app out. Your app might be the next big hit but you’ll never know unless you go for it.

Remember – ideas are cheap, execution is hard. Your hard work is impossible to steal and this is what will make your product successful. After all Yahoo! was around before Google launched!

Do you have good or bad experiences with disclosing an app idea? Any points of advice you might add? Share them with us.

Author: Maria Williamson

One comment

  • April 17, 2011 4:22 pm | Maria Williamson

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your comment! Some developers and mobile development companies do agree on a revenue share or cash/equity split when working on mobile application projects. Do some research and you should be able to get in touch with the right partner.

    Wishing success,

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