Smartphone app developers, including those who make iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps, are protected by certain federal and state laws and must also comply with specific privacy laws. It can be benefit app developers to know what these laws are, what their legal rights include and what must be incorporated into their mobile application to protect the end user -- especially when the end user is a child.
The strongest form of protection for an iPad app developer comes when you file a software patent to secure your intellectual property. Receiving a patent for your application helps to protect it from reverse engineering -- the process by which a person digs into your code and tries to use those concepts in his own software products without giving you due credit or paying you royalties.
The entire patent process is complicated, involving examination proceedings, a long turn around time and high legal costs. If you believe you should get a patent for your iPad app, contact a law firm that specializes in securing software patents, as not all software can obtain a patent. For example, in Europe, the software patent process is stricter; the European Union requires that a program must solve a technical problem, its technology must be new and has to offer an inventive technical contribution, before the E.U. will grant a patent.
Copyrighting your iPad app or different components of the software helps to protect you if legal issues arise later on. The cost of registering a copyright is low compared to getting a software patent. U.S. federal law allows for statutory damages or attorney's fees for infringement of a registered copyright.
The best way to register a copyright for software is to copyright the software code itself. You may file a portion of the code. For example, you can file the first and last 25 pages while blocking out trade secrets from the source code.
One specific area of an iPad app that can receive a trademark is the icon the user taps to open the app. The icon itself defines the brand and identity of the application. If you have the means to register a trademark, it should be done specifically for the icon to protect your brand. Trademarks are cost effective compared to the costlier software patent registration process. To file a trademark, you must file the proper registration paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and have the government agency recognize you as the exclusive owner of that trademark.
One area that app developers must take seriously, regardless of whether they seek to protect their intellectual property, is the privacy of its users. Children are guaranteed privacy protection under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which extends to mobile apps. In August 2011, the Federal Trade Commission asserted this fact in an enforcement case where a mobile game developer was collecting private information from children 13 years and younger, all without parental consent. In addition, in the state of California, a person's ZIP code is considered part of his personal information and cannot be obtained without his permission. This means the developer cannot match the ZIP code to the device's Global Positioning System coordinates.
Each iOS developer must follow certain guidelines that are outlined in the iOS Developer Program License Agreement. It details topics including authorized test devices, use of Apple programming interfaces and technology, data collection, local laws you must follow and privacy issues. If Apple believes a developer's app doesn't meet their guidelines or violates the agreement, the company can reject or ban the app, and you may be liable to Apple if you cause any damage to the company or its customers through the use of your app. Both commercial and government end users are protected under the agreement.
- Malhotra Law Firm: Smart Phone App Patents
- Malhorta Law Firm: Smart Phone App Copyrights
- Malhorta Law Firm: Smart Phone App Trademarks
- Business Insider: Mobile App Makers Must Protect Children's Privacy
- Tech News World: Mobile Apps Not Exempt from Children's Privacy Regs
- National Law Review: Mobile Apps and Hidden Risks
- Borges and Associates: Can You Patent Software?
- Photo Credit Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images