The App Industry

Mobile apps have the potential to be quite lucrative, though the field is also competitive. The main app stores have billions of choices for users to download and try on their devices. In 2017, the app industry was worth an estimated $77 billion, so it's no surprise that many want to tap into the global market of more than 2 billion smartphone users.

Even though so many people are encouraged to try their hand at making the next viral app success, it can be challenging to come up with a truly new idea that will appeal to users. As you brainstorm, you'll need to protect your ideas from those who may want to profit from your innovation. You can see how pervasive this problem is by noting the large number of app clones when you browse the iOS app store. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your app from this type of IP theft.

Tips to Protect Your App Idea

Before your app gets to the stage of development where it can be legally protected, you can take the following steps to prevent another individual or company from stealing your idea:

  • Be careful about sharing your idea with others. Although this is sometimes unavoidable, such as when hiring contract workers or pitching the app to clients and investors, you don't need to share every detail. The less information someone has about your app, the less likely that they will be able to replicate it. Share the idea only with those you trust who can provide valuable, credible insight.
  • Choose business partners and associates carefully to ensure they are reputable. It's common to hire outside contractors to handle app design and development based on an original idea. Screen these professionals carefully and check their references. This will reduce the chance that the company in question will steal your idea.
  • Use a contract that spells out ownership of the app. If you hire a third-party developer, he or she will own the design unless you have an agreement specifying otherwise. This should state that the copyright for the completed app will be released. The developer may retain ownership of the code itself.

The Importance of Non-Disclosure Agreements

If you hire a designer or developer, you'll need to speak freely with them about your vision for the app. Requiring them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, will ensure that your ideas are kept confidential. This prevents contractors from using your idea or disclosing it to a third party. You can also ask investors to sign an NDA, though they may require some information about your project before doing so. An NDA can be incorporated into the business plan you provide investors. Consider having a qualified business attorney prepare your NDA.

Trademarking Your App Idea

While developing your app, you can trademark its name and brand to protect elements such as the website, logos, taglines, and other identifiers. Having a trademark is also important to establish you as the app owner as of a specific date in case of a future legal challenge.

When you own a trademark, competitors are legally prohibited from using words, logos, icons, and symbols that it covers. Think of the most popular apps: they are instantly recognizable because they have a strong brand.

However, keep in mind that a trademark does not keep competitors from using similar names, logos, and slogans.

Using a Non-Compete Agreement

A non-compete agreement restricts any of the vendors you work with from working on competitors' projects for a specific period of time during and after the work they are doing on your app. This prevents them from revealing your trade secrets. However, you may need to pay more in order to compensate your developer for signing such an agreement since it may require them to turn down future work.

If you need help with obtaining intellectual property protection for your app idea, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.