How to Protect Your App Idea Legally

By Michael Kupfer Tuesday, May 26, 2020

how to legally protect an app ideaDo you have an amazing idea for an app? To take your idea from a moment of inspiration to being downloaded by users requires a number of steps. Some of these steps are technically optional, but if you’re interested in fully protecting your intellectual property and your personal assets, we have some suggestions to offer.

Right now is a great time to build an app. The average mobile user relies on 9 apps every day, and 30 apps in a month. You have a great chance to build an app that’s useful and profitable.

Still, you want to make sure that you know how to protect an app idea, whether it’s a game, a fitness program, a budgeting assistant or anything else. An idea that’s yours can easily become someone else’s and wind up for sale on Google Play or Apple’s App store.

Are you ready to learn how you can prevent that from happening?

Let’s get started!

Verify You Have a Good Idea

Before you invest a lot of time and effort into developing the app, you want to make sure that you have a strong app idea.

Take the time to evaluate your competition and see how your app is going to be different and better than what’s already out there. This step will protect you because you documented the similarities and differences between the apps.

Another app developer could target you for copyright infringement or take your app ideas and incorporate them into their own app.

When you’re evaluating the marketplace, you also need to understand your target market. Think about who they are and why they need your app.

How to Protect an App Idea

After you verify that you have a very good app idea, you need to take the appropriate steps to protect it. The following are the most critical steps to take to protect your idea. 

Step 1: Form an LLC

Your first step to protect your app idea is to make your company official. This may seem intimidating, but it’s actually much easier than anything else in the process.

The requirements to form an LLC will vary from state to state. You’ll need to have an application, pay a small fee, and have a registered agent.

Many companies choose to incorporate in Delaware because it has more protections for businesses than most other states.

It’s worth it, even if you have a small company or a single app in development. What this does is legally separate you and your personal assets from your business, so you’re protected.

What if you’re a resident outside of the United States? It’s actually just as easy for non-residents to form an LLC. You don’t need a U.S. address or to travel to the U.S. to start your LLC.

Step 2: Own the Copyright

An idea is just that – an idea. Legally, ideas aren’t typically protected under copyright laws. However, as soon as you start to code the project, that is something tangible that can be protected.

You want to make sure that you have everything documented to support any intellectual property claims. Note the dates and times when you started to work on the app, the source code, and any other integral parts of the development process.

You may have to work with developers or freelancers who are more skilled in app development than you. In this case, you have to make sure that you have a contract in place that clearly states that you own the copyright of the code.

Otherwise, the developer can claim they own the code and do what they want with your app idea.

Step 3: Use Non-Disclosure Agreements

It takes a team to develop your app. The more people that you let into your circle, the more you’re opening the door to someone taking your app idea.

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a contract that directs anyone – developers, designers, business advisors – to not share specific information about your app with anyone for a certain amount of time.

The NDA should be drawn up by an attorney to ensure that the most important information about your app idea is protected by the contract but boilerplate versions are available on the internet if you want to examine them

Step 4. Register the Trademark

One of the best reasons to form an LLC is that you can create a brand around your new company. That brand, logo, and products can all be trademarked and will become valuable as your app takes off.

The branding of the app is just as important as the app itself. Think of the top apps on the market. They all have identifiable icons and a memorable name.

These can and should be protected. Your brand is what the end-user will remember most. Trademarking them prevents others from stealing your intellectual property, or allows you to sue them if they do,

Step 5: Pursue Infringement Cases

The most important step that you can take after all of these steps is to follow-through with action. You’ve taken the appropriate steps to document your app and legally register it with copyright and trademark offices. You have every right to go after those who are trying to steal your app idea, code, user interface – whatever you have trademarked.

If someone is infringing on your intellectual property, you have the right to go after them to protect your business. For example, Apple has a dispute form that you can fill out. Apple will investigate and remove apps that infringe on your intellectual property.

Another step you can take is to send infringing companies a cease and desist letter. If they don’t respond, you can escalate the matter through an attorney.

Protect Your App Intellectual Property

When you have a great idea for an app, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect it from becoming someone else’s profitable project. That starts with knowing how to protect an app idea.

The most important steps you can take are to register your business to show you take your app seriously. You also want to have contracts in place with those you work with on the project. Finally, register the idea as a trademark and enforce it by going after those who violate your intellectual property.

Are you ready to take the first step to make your app idea a reality? You can form a Delaware company in just a few simple steps for as little as $179 including filing fees.

*Disclaimer*: Harvard Business Services, Inc. is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm and, even in cases where the author is an attorney, or a tax professional, nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. This article provides general commentary on, and analysis of, the subject addressed. We strongly advise that you consult an attorney or tax professional to receive legal or tax guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Any action taken or not taken based on this article is at your own risk. If an article cites or provides a link to third-party sources or websites, Harvard Business Services, Inc. is not responsible for and makes no representations regarding such source’s content or accuracy. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Harvard Business Services, Inc.

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