How can I protect my intellectual property rights in mobile applications?
There’s no dearth for mobile applications on smartphones. There’s an app for everything today and you’ll definitely find one to meet your requirements. We’re spoilt for choices and that’s exactly the concern of every mobile application developer. They need to make sure that they stand out and create an app that is better than the ones that already exist. So what happens when someone copies a part of the app or clones the entire app? Is it an intellectual property infringement? This brings us to the next question – can intellectual property rights in mobile applications be protected? Yes, different aspects/features of the mobile app can be protected under different branches of intellectual property law.
Protection of intellectual property rights in mobile applications
To begin with, a name of the app and its logo can be protected under the trademark law. In addition to protecting one’s own interest, this is with a view to ensure that no one else uses the same trademark for an app providing for similar features by making inconsequential additions or deletions. Additions like Pro, +, Plus have become extremely common and tend to confuse the user in case. More so, if they already have an app installed with that particular name because they are likely to assume that the one with a Pro or + suffix is an upgraded version of the existing app. For instance, if someone creates an app by the name of Whatsapp Pro or Whatsapp +, the user is likely to associate this with the original Whatsapp and this might lead to confusion.
In a competitive market, where users can delete an app with a touch of a finger, it’ not only important to keep up with technology and regular updates, but also ensure that your competitors are not leeching off your brand name.
There are two aspects of copyrights as far as mobile applications are concerned – one is copyright on the source code of the software as a literary work and the other is copyright on the screen shots of the app as an artistic work, which in effect will protect the general appearance and layout of the app. Copyright protection of this kind is more with a view to ensure that there is proof of usage from a particular date. In the event that a developer wants to file a suit for infringement or is sued for allegedly copying the work on another, a copyright application can be used as evidence of the date of prior usage of the screen shots, as the case may be.
An invention which is a new article, process, method is patentable in general. Mobile apps would be considered as software patents since they comprise of a software source code, algorithm, program languages etc. In some jurisdictions, software inventions are not considered an invention and therefore will not be protected as a patent. However there are some jurisdictions which allow software related inventions to be patented. Given that mobile apps are accessible world over, seeking protection in the jurisdictions which allow software patents will ensure patent protection in atleast some countries. Further, with specific reference to mobile applications, the key concerns would be the cost and time involved in obtaining a patent because technology in this field is evolving and the probability of developers creating similar technology is a more cost effective way is very high.
Ensuring maximum intellectual property protection in the jurisdiction in which the trademark, patent or copyright is being applied is extremely important.