How do you protect an app idea when ideas aren't legally protected, and only the expression of an idea is protected under copyright, trademark, and patent laws? It's important to learn how to protect your ideas from idea thieves and copycats. Below are six methods you can use to keep yourself safe from plagiarism.

Be Secretive with Your Idea

It is impossible to keep your idea completely secret, and there are many instances when you must share it, such as pitching an investor, delegating to a contractor, and hiring an employee. You can, however, control how much you share. It's very rare that you'll need to explain the entirety of your brainchild to someone. The more you share your idea, the more there's a chance someone will steal it. While it may appear like a truism, many creators will share their ideas indiscriminately out of pure enthusiasm.

Be Selective About Your Contacts

You'll most likely need to delegate to employees and outsource to contractors if you want your idea to become an app. It is crucial to screen all outside help:

Trustworthy contractors will have no qualms with you asking for testimonials, and they'll happily provide them. By making sure you solely work with professional contractors, you substantially reduce the chances of idea theft. You should also keep in mind that developers and designers own the code and the design you pay them for. Make sure you have a contract that clearly expresses the contractors will revoke all rights of ownership and give them to you once the project is done.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) Are Essential

A simple way to ensure that your idea is protected from being liberally shared by outside help is to have a non-disclosure agreement. This protects your idea by making it illegal for the contractors to share any information pertaining to your app. NDAs provides a necessary protection when dealing with independent contractors, employees, investors, and associates. Although, it is not a guarantee your idea is 100 percent safe, which is why it is still important to make sure the companies you work with are reputable.

Some investors are hesitant to sign an NDA, especially before you've presented your idea. If an NDA isn't an option, try to explain your ideas without going into specifics.

Have a Non-Compete Agreement

A non-compete agreement ensures that the people you work with don't reveal trade-secrets to rival companies. It essentially restricts your contractors and employees from working on a project that will be considered a competitor to yours. The problem here is the NCA means they can't work on such a project for a certain, often lengthy, period of time, even after they're done working for you. That often means the contractors will have a greater difficulty landing a job during that period. This makes an NCA risky for them, so they may request a singing fee paid to them.

Make a Written Record of Everything

Document and write down everything you do related to your app. This will strengthen your stance in court, as it would be considered written evidence. You should record the app's code and design, your thought-process, the conversations you have with your contractors, etc. Nothing is too small to be ignored. Keeping a log of every chat you've had with anyone related to your app would be a great idea, which would help you pinpoint where the information has leaked from.

These were a few simple methods you could use to protect your idea and future app in an age when plagiarism is rampant and knock-off apps appear every other day in app stores.

Build Your App

Copyright protection is only guaranteed once you've turned your idea into a concrete application, because, as mentioned before, copyright laws only protect the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. Completing your app, in reality, is a sure-fire way to protect it under the law. Once it is done, the design and the code's ownership will solely be yours, and no one can reverse-engineer or steal it.

Cheap knock-offs trying to capitalize on your app's success will still be a problem, although. You should take into account that protecting ideas is a continuous and never-ending practice, as there is no straightforward legal process that can protect you in every case.

Smart business practices and far-sighted decision making are the best protection against idea theft. If it proves too much for you and you need help with protecting your idea, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top five percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average fourteen years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.