Apps are ideas made into code. But a really great innovation, ultimately, is not so much a great idea as it is an effective implementation: the best apps are simply easier to use than their competitors, rather than totally transformative or radical.
That can make protecting them tricky. Your app is potentially very profitable, and you want to ensure it isn’t co-opted by a competitor – it needs to belong to your business. But how do you ensure that something as intangible as an idea is protected?
Intellectual property is a thing – there is a range of ways to protect concepts and ideas. But the rules around IP can be very specific and often require a ‘trade secret’ or some other very particular box to be ticked. If your app is merely doing something that has already been done, but a bit better, it can be hard to prove that it is unique. And besides, computer software is not generally eligible for patenting in the UK.
What you really want to access is the power of copyright law – this forbids people from copying your product and your brand. A branded app is immediately protected by law – it is marked as yours, and can’t be stolen. So the key step to take if you’re looking to protect your idea for an app is simple: start working, and build the app.
Once you’ve started work, you can immediately begin to protect your code. The implementation of your idea is entirely protected by law. In other words, the expression of your idea is what matters – the shape it takes in the real world. Start working on making your idea a reality; don’t delay!
Next, ensure that the people working with you are keeping the app as closely guarded as you are: get a non-disclosure agreement in place whenever you discuss the app with others. An NDA is critical to ensuring that collaborators, employees and others understand and are bound by the rules of confidentiality you seek to impose. Build a wall around your app!
Meanwhile, register a trademark. Your app’s brand matters – it is a key part of its identity, both in the marketplace and legally. The brand name is one of the key means by which you can protect the expression on your idea: the audience built around a brand can’t be stolen if the brand cannot be stolen.
This should ensure that you have the time and space to develop your protected app and get it ready for market without being overtaken by rival products. Once you have a solid product in place, you can copyright it – that is, assert your rights as its creator. Ensure any freelancers you work with a sign over any copyright to you, too.
At its root, then, protecting your idea is about expressing it: building the app, creating a brand, asserting your rights over the product. Your idea for an app can be as good as can be – but until it really is an app, you’ll struggle to protect it. So get to work!
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We provide mobile app design and development for all project requirements, both consumer and business apps. If you’re in need of a mobile app or just have an idea for a project you wish to discuss, please contact us to arrange a consultancy.