Step by step - How to protect your app and understand copyright, trademark, patent and agreements

Posted on Jan 28th 2021 by Miira Vehviläinen

Step by step is a series in which complex subjects are explained...step by step. Developing an app comes with the necessity and responsibility to keep it protected on every aspect. You should never be too protective and never ever naive. It is better to be safe than sorry is a saying, that cannot be underrated when creating an app or anything you want to protect from infringements. The legal aspects might seem difficult, complex and overwhelming but I am here to give you a brief and simple overview, of what you should know to keep your app protected from the very beginning. Remember, an idea cannot be protected by any copyright, trademark, patent or agreement, so make sure you create something that can be concretely protected. Remember to keep in mind, that these legislative aspects vary depending on where you are located. These points are made from an EU perspective, for example the duration and the application process of the protection can vary a lot. 

What does copyright mean?

Along with patent and trademark, copyright is probably the most known term of intellectual property. You have most probably ran across it through social media such as YouTube and Instagram, most likely for music, photos and videos. Copyright basically means, that you have the right over your work, such as the latter three. This means, that no one can use your work without your permission and this right lasts for your whole lifetime and even 70 years after that in EU. However, as mentioned earlier, you cannot have copyright over an idea. You have to have actual work, such as a song, to get copyright protection. So saying that you had the idea first, doesn’t help. For example, if you have someone working on your app, like actually making something for the app, according to copyright law, they are the ones to have the copyright automatically since they are the ones that actually created it to a concrete piece of work. Thus, you need to make sure you have the copyright to begin with. Overall, copyright can be the easiest and cheapest version of protection, but also the most fickle with its many exceptions and bullet points. But it’s a good one to start with. 

What is a trademark?

You can get trademark protection for example on names, logos, symbols and words. There are the weirdest trademarks out there, so you should always go for it when applying for a trademark. For example, Paris Hilton has trademarked her legendary saying ”That’s Hot”. So yes, a saying or a slogan could be a trademark as well. The first thing to trademark for your app, is the name, logo and within the world of apps, the icon. Trademark gives the owner a specific ownership and also the protection of no one else being able to create anything similar, that could be confusing to the public. Trademarks last up to 10 years in EU, but can be renewed as long as needed. 

What is a patent?

If your app has a technical character which is new, inventive and is susceptible to industrial application, it could become a patent. In EU, you can either apply for national patent or European one. Patent gives your invention the protection of no one else selling or using the invention without your permission. Generally in EU, computer softwares cannot be patented, but there are cases where this has been granted as well. So do our research and never say never. Applying for a patent can be a tricky thing, not only for its complex application steps, but it takes a long time to form and finalize. Patents are also not cheap, but the value of protecting your invention shouldn’t even be calculated. In addition, patents last for 20 years, after which you have to file for another one.

Be smart

In addition to these three legal intellectual property steps, which are not that complex if you take your time and get to know them, there are different kind of agreements and basic points, you should take into consideration. First is a non-disclosure agreement. This means that if you work with someone, for example a software developer, you should make a legal contract which includes the things you share with them and what is not for anyone else to hear. This agreement should be made before anyone starts working on anything. It is basically an agreement of confidentiality. In addition, choose the right people to work with. This doesn't guarantee trust or loyal behaviour, but it gets you one step closer. Also, make sure that nothing is agreed on orally but also in written form. Having your word against another, is never a good place to start. And never miss an aspect you should protect, go through everything in detail to ensure your app's protection as a whole. And always, keep a good lawyer in close contact regarding every aspect on the way. 

Miira Vehviläinen
Miira Vehviläinen

ASO Specialist

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