The mobile application industry is relatively young; however, it is developing rapidly and brings big profits. Thus, according to Goldstein Research, the mobile apps market is set to reach nearly USD 337.5 billion by 2024. From the point of view of patent law, a mobile application is a full-fledged subject of copyright. Since it includes heterogeneous elements - functionality, algorithm, logo, design - the registration of exclusive rights should be carried out comprehensively.
Mobile App Copyright
Copyright protects computer programs, and they are the basis of mobile applications. In general, the legal protection of mobile applications has much in common with the one for Internet sites. The main
condition for the registration of the components is their novelty. If they do not contain anything fundamentally new, then, patenting is impossible.Each intellectual property has its own specifics of protection, examination, and application. Registration of all elements is a complex task requiring the involvement of specialists in the field of patent law. Also, under copyright law, the display images generated by mobile applications can be protected, regardless of whether protection is provided for the underlying computer program.
It is important to remember that copyright provides protection not of the idea itself, but of the form of its expression. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference, but the essence of this difference lies in the creative choice the author makes to express the idea.
Copyright protection does not require formal registration, so the cost of it is very low. However, particular attention should be paid to the question of who owns the copyright. It is noteworthy that both the United States and the EU have recently been amended by legislation on the protection of trade secrets. For computer code, trade secrets can be an effective form of protection and even preferred over IP rights under certain circumstances. Companies choosing a mobile-first approach for enterprise mobility often refer to trade secrets law to protect their business assets and innovations.
Protected Mobile App Elements
It should be noted that the idea of a mobile application is not patented. The results of intellectual activity expressed in a technical solution are subject to legal protection. Each professional mobile app development company should be aware of the following elements amenable to legal protection:
Interconnected data and commands that allow you to solve a specific consumer problem using program code are prone to legal protection. For example, an application that facilitates office work, file transfer, statement, and execution of tasks. This segment of digital products is the most attractive for investors.
An algorithm is a set of specified rules for solving a class of problems or a set of instructions that describe the order of actions of an executor. For example, the algorithm of the device for identifying a person by biometric parameters (fingerprint, voice, a pupil of the eye). The algorithm is closely related to the program code, but, unlike the latter, it can be represented only in the form of a block diagram, without formalization in a programming language. It is registered as an invention. However, solution methods consisting only of mathematical sequences and expressions cannot be patented.
Hardware and software systems, consisting of a certain model of equipment, software included with it, as well as drivers. This combination is less common in the mobile application market than the rest. Usually, they are part of complex automation systems. Their registration is possible as inventions or utility models. An example is a mobile application for working with corporate information systems.
The logo, the name of the program are registered as a trademark (if they were not previously issued for the company as a whole). Design and original fonts designed by a designer or artist are also subject to copyright.
Why Protect the Rights to an App?
Mobile applications can be sold through different online stores without obtaining certificates and patents confirming the exclusive rights to this type of digital product. However, the legal registration of applications, programs, and databases provides various advantages:
- Legal confirmation of the exclusive right when introduced into the civil circulation, which greatly facilitates its transfer (in whole or in part) to third parties during the sale of the application. It is also a guarantee against recognition of the development as counterfeit.
- Opportunity to participate in tenders, competitions, and grants.
- The attraction of investment capital. For your client, the app will be more attractive if it has been registered with state authorities and has a patent portfolio. This is especially true for foreign investors. Copyright can also be proved by attaching a package of documents confirming the issuance of tasks for application development, financial statements, and others, but the provision of a certificate or patent significantly speeds up this process and facilitates interaction with investors.
- Protection against unauthorized copying and sale of an app, as well as claims of third parties who developed a similar product. Looking through the same Google Play online store, you can find that there is a large number of “clones” of popular applications that monetize the fruits of good ideas from legitimate copyright holders.
- The presence of registration makes it possible to bring violators to all types of liability - from civil to criminal. The certificate (patent) allows to effectively protect the interests of the copyright holder in court.
The long-term and fruitful cooperation of the investor and the developer largely depends on how they built their relationship on a legal plane. Including the necessary liability provisions into an official written contract will protect you and your client from the negative consequences. Among other things, such an agreement should clearly state that your clients are transferred the exclusive property rights to the program code and other mobile app elements. This will allow your client to manage the development results without limits.