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How to Protect an App Idea and Limit the Risk of its Theft

02.07.2021 Christina Kovalevich
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How to Protect an App Idea and Limit the Risk of its Theft

Do you have a brilliant app idea, but haven’t started implementing it because you’re afraid someone might steal it? Unfortunately, such fears can become a reality. App development is an extremely competitive environment that causes some people to behave badly.

Fortunately, there are several effective ways to protect your idea from being copied. In this article, we will offer you some strategies.

Contents

Be Cautious About Sharing Information

We understand how impatient you are to tell the world about the brilliant idea that came to your head. But you may think that the only risk is your business partners: investors, developers, designers, and so on.

Feeling inspired, you begin to share the details with your friends, colleagues, neighbors. But blabbering on and on about it before development begins is one of the greatest mistakes you can make. The more people who know the app’s technical details, the more vulnerable your idea becomes.

Document Everything

Everything you do with your app should be written down. Document all the aspects, no matter how small these notes are. Having such documentation may prove extremely useful in case of a technical review or any legal issues.

You should document your application code, brainstorming sessions, meetings, etc. Even small details relevant to your application should not go unrecorded.

Another good habit is to keep a record of every discussion of your idea with anyone. If you find leaked information that you reported during these conversations, you can easily find the intruder.

Careful record-keeping will allow you to make an account of how your idea developed and with whom you shared it, removing any doubt about your memory of events.

Copyright Features

The best way to get the legal rights to your mobile app is to copyright it. Copyright refers to the legal right of the person who created an original work to determine whether and how that work can be used by others. As you may have guessed, you cannot copyright the idea itself. In terms of application development, you can only copyright the interface and source code.

Even if you own the idea for the app, any developer can claim copyright because they created the app. They can claim that they own it, too. When signing such an agreement, ask for all rights before and after the development process.

Trademark Your Work

Trademark Features

A trademark is a brand identity that distinguishes original products or services from others. To register a trademark, your app should have at least a logo and a name to identify it.

A trademark can only protect the app’s appearance, not its functionality. Thus, trademarking may seem like a waste of money. But the main purpose of the trademark will be clear when your application becomes popular and competitors try to steal your downloads.

Patent Your App

Patent Features

As far as anyone knows, an idea or suggestion cannot be patented. A patent is given for an invention, so your application has to be really new and innovative. Moreover, applying for a patent will cost you more than the money you invest in development. And this process usually takes years.

Still, if you do decide to patent your app, we recommend starting with a provisional patent application. This protects your idea for one year, which means you will have time to develop it.

Reserve the Name in the App Store

If you develop an app for Android, you don’t have to reserve the name since Google Play allows having several apps with the same name. But when developing for iOS, you should reserve your brilliant app name even if it’s just an idea.

Steps to reserve the name of your iOS app:

  1. Sign in to App Store Connect.
  2. Click on My Apps.
  3. Click on the + button and Add New App.
  4. Enter the required information.
  5. Enter the bundle ID.

Before reserving the app name, conduct thorough research to ensure that the name you have chosen is still available.

Choose Only Reputable Developers and Third-Party Contractors

Choosing contractors is one of the most important decisions you need to make to protect your idea from theft. You’ll have to share every aspect of your idea with the developers to enable them to implement everything exactly as you intended. Unfortunately, developers can be untrustworthy. So let’s take a look at how to arrange collaboration that is safe for all the parties involved.

You probably know that hiring freelancers is cheaper than working with an IT company. But in this case, the desire to save money can play a cruel trick on you. We advise working with development companies because they protect their reputation and often offer to sign an NDA.

The key aspects you need to take into account when choosing a software development company are as follows:

  • Portfolio. Study their portfolio to make sure they have enough experience in solving similar problems.
  • Reviews. Customer feedback is the best indicator that the company is doing everything right. You can find reviews using specialized websites like Clutch or GoodFirms.
  • Referrals. This is one of the best ways to find top developers. To get referrals, ask around within your network.

Prepare and Sign an NDA

Non-Disclosure Agreement

Signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is the main way to protect the idea and the already developed application. It is usually a contract between you and the developing party that specifies confidential information and liability for its disclosure to third parties. The NDA prevents the signing parties from using or leaking sensitive information obtained during the course of negotiations or business relationships.

Standard NDA Clauses

1. Establishing the Parties Involved

Start the agreement by identifying the parties involved. The “Disclosing Party” is the individual or entity who shares the information, while the “Receiving Party” is the individual or entity who receives it. In a mutual NDA, both parties are Disclosing and Receiving at the same time.

2. Confidential Information

In this step, you need to specify what sensitive information is protected by the future NDA. Confidential information may include:

  • trade secrets (practices, instruments, software development, blueprints, customer lists, patent details);
  • business ventures (partnerships, mergers, real estate, consulting, audits, marketing, pricing, finances);
  • creative materials (illustrations, graphic design, web design, prototypes, product samples);
  • other types of information you wish to keep private.

3. Exclusions from Confidential Information

This clause specifies the information that is not protected by the NDA. What kinds of information can’t be protected by the NDA?

  • publicly available information;
  • information that is known to the other party before the conclusion of an NDA;
  • information discovered or developed by the receiving party itself;
  • information that the disclosing party permitted to be disclosed with prior written consent.

4. Non-Disclosure Obligations

This is the main part of the NDA. It describes the receiving party’s obligations with respect to the disclosing party’s information.

This section begins with a paragraph that refers to the Receiving Party’s broad obligation to keep sensitive information confidential. Most likely, it will contain some other paragraphs detailing various obligations, such as Non-Disclosure of Transaction, Non-Solicitation, Non-Compete, or Non-Circumvention clauses.

5. Time Frame

The non-disclosure agreement must clearly state how long it will be in force. The time frame specifies the moment when the promise to keep information confidential goes into effect (“Effective Date”) and the period of time during which confidential information must not be disclosed to third parties (“Disclosure Period”).

Generally, the parties agree on when the agreement will expire (the so-called “Termination” clause). For example, an NDA may terminate when:

  • the main agreement expires;
  • the transaction is completed;
  • a certain period of time elapses.

6. Jurisdiction

This section specifies the state whose laws will govern the agreement. In case of a leak or misuse of confidential information by one party and subsequent litigation, the laws of the designated state will apply, and any litigation or hearing will take place in that state.

But keep in mind that different states have different approaches to NDAs. For example, California does not enforce non-compete clauses.

7. Signatures

The last section of the NDA is for the signatures of all parties and their representatives.

Representatives are other people (directors, employees, agents, advisors) who can access, share, receive, or protect the information for the purpose of carrying out the transaction specified in the NDA.

8. Additional Clauses

Each agreement will be different depending on the nature of the transaction, the business relationship, and the information that is protected. Here are some additional points you can include in your NDA:

  • Remedies: defines the consequences of violating the NDA.
  • No License: stipulates that the NDA does not give either party any patents, copyrights, or proprietary rights to the information provided.
  • Severability: specifies that if one part of the NDA is invalidated in court, that part will be deleted and the rest of the agreement will remain in effect.
  • Amendments: notes that the agreement can be changed at any moment.

Use a Non-Compete Agreement

Non-Compete Agreement

A non-compete and a non-disclosure agreement often get confused because NDAs can include a non-compete clause. In some cases, it’s easier to sign one document instead of two.

However, in contrast to an NDA, a non-compete agreement prohibits one party from engaging in business that competes with the other party. Generally, it is signed when the company hires an employee, but it can also be used between companies and vendors. It can even be introduced after a period of ongoing cooperation.

But you should be careful about drafting a non-compete agreement because it can significantly limit contractors from accepting future projects. A contractor is more likely to sign the agreement if it has a reasonable time frame. It is better to get a lawyer to draft the agreement.

Use Data Loss Prevention Tools

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a set of measures, instruments, and processes used to make sure that confidential information is not disclosed, misused, or accessed by unauthorized people.

How it works: DLP divides all the organization’s data into regulated, sensitive, and business-critical. Then, it identifies whether any of its policies were violated. Once DLP identifies such breaches, it ensures that they are addressed using alerts, encryption, or other protective measures.

DLP tools track and monitor endpoint actions, filter data flows across enterprise networks, and monitor data in the cloud to protect it at rest, in motion, and in use. Moreover, DLP software also generates reports to meet compliance and audit requirements, and to identify weaknesses and anomalies.

The most popular DLP tools are McAfee Total Protection, Symantec DLP, Forcepoint DLP, and Digital Guardian Endpoint DLP.

Conclusion

It’s normal to worry about the safety of your idea, especially if you are undertaking app development for the first time. After all, you came up with the concept, did the research, looked for investors, and hired a team of developers. So even the mere thought of an idea being stolen makes you panic.

We hope that this article has helped you calm down a bit and realize that you can protect your idea from theft. It’s not an easy task, but it’s possible. By following the above advice, you can enjoy some peace of mind about your app concept.

And remember that the most effective way to protect your app idea is to hire a trustworthy software development company.

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