App Maker - Sized for SiteTwenty years ago few people had heard of the Internet.  Ten years ago few people had heard of a smart phone.  Today, the world  is shrinking as it becomes more connected than ever before.  People access the Internet routinely through their smart phones and tablet computers and more and more do so by and through specific applications built for their devices.  App makers are shaping the way we live on a daily basis.  But few app makers know the extent to which they can protect themselves and their creations through U.S. copyright and trademark laws.

In any business it is critical to understand what your intellectual property rights are and how they can be used to protect your company’s assets.  In the growing hyper-competitive marketplace for apps the protection of app makers’ intellectual property is now an essential tool in the business model.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a simple overview of the various forms of intellectual property protection available to the creators of mobile device applications with a suggested action plan for securing and enforcing those rights in the future.

Types of Intellectual Property Protection Available

  1. Trademark(s):  Trademarks, in general, are the brand name of the app and are generally used to identify the source of the same.  They can protect the name of the company (e.g. Rovio), the name of the game (e.g., Angry Birds), and even slogans or tag lines associated with the game.
  2. Copyright(s): Copyrights, in general, protect original works of artistic expression.  For app makers, this means that you can protect the image of an original character in your app (e.g., an “Angry Bird”) and possibly the backdrop of the game itself if it is of sufficient artistic creativity.  Additionally, U.S. Copyright Law allows you to protect proprietary and original code which is used in the construction of the app.
Action Plan for Protection of Your Rights
  1. Register Your Trademark(s): First, Register your Trademark(s).  This is an absolute and critical step for app makers.  A U.S. federal trademark registration not only will assist you in preventing infringement of your app and its name in the most popular app stores (See below for additional information on this topic) but may also provide a critical shield against allegations of infringement by others which, under the policies of most major app stores, could ban you from selling your apps therein.
  2. Register Your Copyright(s): Second, Register your Copyright(s).  If you have unique code in the construction of your app then get it registered as a Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Also, register the artwork for unique characters that may appear in your app or any other unique artistic images.  Such registrations are valuable to prevent other app makers from copying or designing like characters and code.
  3. Monitor for Infringement: Third, you must be vigilant in Monitoring for Infringement of your trademarks and copyrights.  You should create a system, or hire a company that specializes in the same, for monitoring trademarks filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, used on the Internet, the registration of domain names, as well as conducting routine searches of the major app stores to make sure infringement of your app and its underlying copyright and trademark rights does not occur.
  4. Enforce Your Rights: When infringement is spotted you must act quickly to Enforce Your Rights before it impacts your sales.  As referenced above, having your trademarks and copyrights registered is a critical step in the protection of your rights. If you have done so, then when infringement is spotted it is typically far easier to stop quickly and affordably.  As most app stores have policies that preclude the sale of apps that infinge on another’s rights, if your copyrights and trademarks are registered you can often get the infringing app removed from the app store within days. If they are not registered there are other options for enforcement, however, they are typically more costly and take more time all the while you are losing sales to the infringing app.
So if you are an app maker it is critical to include these steps in your business model to make sure that others who witness your success do not develop similar apps to illegally siphon sales away from your company by infringing upon its copyright and trademark rights.

About TTC Business Solutions

TTC Business Solutions is a self-help legal document service that provides business, trademark, and copyright services at our customers’ specific direction.  TTC Business Solutions also provides access to attorneys specializing in our customers’ needs when more specialized legal assistance is required.  To learn more about TTC Business Solutions visit us online at TTCBusinessSolutions.com or contact us at [email protected].

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