Protecting Apps with IP Law
Phone or tablet applications can function as convenient extensions to existing websites, provide completely new services, and in some cases completely replace website-centric models. Any company looking to create a great app for their service should look into intellectual property (IP) law to make sure their work stays protected and secure; here are some of the basics.
Why IP Protections?
IP law can protect business from infringement both malicious and unintentional, but it can also grant a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks are the four main categories of IP protections. Trademarks cover brand identifiers like names, logos, slogans, and even soundmarks. Trade secrets are exactly what they sound like: processes, information, even recipes to be kept secret that somehow benefit the company in question. Copyrights involve creative work and the reuse/licensing thereof, and patents deal with inventions.
If you come up with a great idea or design for an app (or anything else) and want to turn that idea into a reality, the IP law system offers a way to reap the benefits of this innovative contribution. Trademarks allow you to assert your identity as a brand, while trade secrets enforce penalties for breaches of confidentiality.
Copyrights bar anyone else from stealing your original work, and enable the licensing of that work for use and reuse in exchange for compensation. Patents, on the other hand, grant a temporary monopoly that can apply for up to 20 years, letting you develop your product or service unimpeded and bring it to market.
How Apps Can Be Protected
Intellectual property law can apply to apps in several ways. If the app involves original music, writing, or artwork, that can all be copyrighted. Of course, any brand names or logos featured in the app can be (and should already be) trademarked. However, the real opportunity here lies in patenting.
In order to qualify for a patent, the app must be novel, useful, and non-obvious. The first of these conditions can be checked by a patent search. Essentially, it’s important to see if someone else already owns a patent to something similar enough to your product that they could in fact sue you for infringement if you bring your product to market.
The usefulness of an invention or app can be fairly subjective, but the term also extends more broadly than some people might expect. A utility patent would cover the process or method of achieving a particular functional result, so even if the task that your app completes has been done before, you might have found a faster or more effective way to do that task. Usefulness also covers things like games and entertainment; this may not be considered a “useful” activity to engage in by everyone, but it definitely serves a function.
Design patents are also another avenue whereby to protect apps. Since apps often are a more efficient, more aesthetic version of a website and its subsidiaries, a large part of their appeal comes from good design. The way things look and feel can also be patented, so if your app’s utility is not novel, its design still might be.
J.D. Houvener, a San Antonio patent attorney, stresses the importance of exploring all patenting avenues. “Patents can cover more than just the concept of the invention itself. Function, process, and design are all viable options to look into, and in the case of apps one of these is usually the distinguishing factor versus a website or other app providing similar services.”
Apps offer a unique patenting opportunity that websites do not. Since they’re not tied to browsers, apps can have much more variety in terms of their function, user interface, and other design elements.
It’s vital to get informed on which parts of your app could be eligible for patenting as soon as possible, given the time limits in place once you bring the app to market. Make sure to consult with an IP law firm or attorney sooner rather than later, and get your business protected.