App development presents many of the same issues involved in other software development initiatives. However there are particular confidentiality, intellectual property, privacy and distribution considerations that should be kept in mind when developing a mobile app.
1. Confidentiality : Protect your ideas before you are ready to announce them to the world
The tech industry is constantly breaking new boundaries and everyday people are thinking of new and innovative ideas. Consequently, confidentiality issues become paramount in order to stop others from poaching ideas or intellectual property.
In app development, confidentiality issues will arise when you commission the services of third parties, such as designers or copywriters, whose skills are crucial to the success of your app. These third parties will need to understand your app in order to effectively assist you, but you will want to make sure that they keep all related information secret. The most effective way of ensuring confidentiality is to require them to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and reiterate the importance of not disclosing any sensitive information about the project. You can’t guarantee that a third party won’t steal your information, but a formal NDA is the best way to prevent against such occurrence.
2. Intellectual Property - Protect your IP and respect other’s
Intellectual property (“IP”) refers to all work that is created in the process of developing and promoting your app – for example the source code, designs, graphics, app name, app logo, and any copy within the app would all be considered IP. Intellectual Property considerations are fundamental to building a successful app.
You need to be aware of (i) protecting your app’s IP against competitors, (ii) ensuring you actually own the IP created in the development of your app and (iii) ensuring that you do not infringe the IP of a third party.
Protecting your app’s IP against use by competitors:
You should register all IP created in the development of your app with relevant IP registration bodies. Several ‘components’ of the app, including its original software code, content and designs may qualify for copyright protection. A process or method embodied in an app may be patentable. The app's name and any logo may qualify for trademark protection.
Once you have registered these rights, you are entitled to bring a claim against a third party if they start to use any of the same.
Ensuring you own your app’s IP:
If you are outsourcing any services from third parties (such as designers), it is essential that both parties sign a legal document called an “IP Assignment”. This document will ensure that all work created by these third parties is assigned to you, and will go far to prevent any disputes further down the line over who owns what.
Ensuring you are not infringing the IP of a third-party:
Before you start building your app it is advisable to carry out a check with relevant IP registries to check that . If you use someone else’s registered trademark, they can bring a claim against you.
If your app involves use of IP owned by others (for example music or graphics) you must conduct appropriate rights clearance to evaluate whether you need a license to use it. You should make sure that such license covers the correct territory, distribution platform and device type relevant to your app.
3. Privacy: Ensure that you do not breach your user’s trust
Users place an implicit trust in you when they install your app on their mobile devices. You need to ensure that you do not violate their trust.
There are very strict privacy requirements under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which specifically deals with apps that are likely to attract children under the age of 13 as users and that collect PII from them.
4. Distribution: Comprehend and comply with rules laid down by app stores and other platforms
Once you’ve built your app you need to choose the best channels through which your target audience can access it. Platform providers/app stores vary in their requirements and often require you to follow particular compliance policies. For example, many platforms and app stores specify particular terms that must be included in an end user agreement with users of an app. Some platforms and app stores will require insurance for liability coverage. Furthermore, platforms and app stores are likely to be able to alter their terms at any time, and state that the app must comply with such conditions at all times.
Note that if you are charging a fee for your app there may be additional obligations that you need to consider.
It is great to be aware of these key considerations when building your app, but there is a lot of detail involved in each, and many other issues that may need to be considered in order to ensure your app’s longevity and success. Ideally we would recommend consulting a lawyer specializing in the technology sector to ensure that you are totally fully protected and your app is legally sound. Taking care of these legal aspects will make sure that you have a relatively hassle-free path to mobile app success. Happy hacking!
About the author:
Sophie is the Legal Counsel for EMEA at InMobi