In today’s world, there is nothing which one cannot do with one’s mobile phone and the wide and creative array of mobile applications (apps) available. With everything only a click or swipe away, they have made life much less demanding than at any other time in recent memory. Mobile apps do magic not only for consumers but for their developers too. For even small and start-up innovative organizations, one of the biggest income generators is the improvement of different mobile apps.
A mobile application is nothing but software developed specifically for use on small, wireless computing devices such as smartphones and tablets. However, the more important and serious issue for mobile application development companies is legal protection of their apps.
Since there is an app for every other purpose in the market today, it becomes crucial for a developer to create something more innovative and seek proper protection for the app. Mobile apps can be protected under the various categories of intellectual property (IP) rights depending on the nature of the application.
Every app contains an assortment of IP rights. The exact nature of the rights depends on the type of app, but all apps, at least, contain copyrighted elements in the basic software, content or images used in the functioning of the app. Some apps may also use technology which has patent protection for particular functions. Finally, registering the creative names and logo of an app as trademarks would not only be beneficial in promoting an app but would also make the app identifiable from its competitors in the market.
Copyright provides protection to creators of an original work of authorship for literary and artistic works. Copyright protection for mobile apps can be done via two ways: computer code developed for a particular app can be protected as a literary work, and other representations on the mobile screen during the application’s execution can be registered as artistic works under copyright law.
Other aspects of mobile apps, including the moving images, music, and sound and video recordings, of the mobile application interface can also be considered for copyright protection as artistic works.
The unique characteristic of computer code that separates it from other literary works is its dynamic essence, which usually includes algorithms, mathematical formulae, logical conditions, etc. that manipulate symbols to produce certain virtual or physical effects, among others.
Copyright law provides protection to the software or the expressions of the software’s programming, but not the functional aspects of the software. Some additional protection is required to protect the functional aspect of the software.
Copyright protection is entrusted as soon as the work is created, and it does not require formal registration. However, registration of copyright becomes relevant in cases of protecting one’s work from infringement. Further, when securing preliminary relief from the court of law in cases of copyright infringement, registration is an effective tool for the copyright owner to establish a case of infringement of copyright prima facie.
However it is a subjective decision as to whether a single copyright application should be filed for various subject matters such as the application’s user interface, layout, images or screenshots of the application itself, or whether separate applications should be filed for each matter. These decisions may vary from case to case and strategy to strategy. They would therefore require an in-depth study in regard to the nature of the mobile app.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention that can comprise of a product or process. The invention must be novel and must provide a solution to a technical problem in a particular field of technology.
As mentioned above, mobile apps are nothing but software applications which have been developed for performing specific functions on mobile devices. Protecting mobile apps under patent law is a bit chaotic, as every country has its own diverse arrangement of criteria for granting patent protection for software-based inventions or computer-implemented inventions.
Some countries, including India, do not provide patent protection for software-based inventions, while few countries, such as the US, provide them patent protection.
As copyright cannot protect the functional aspects of a computer programme, patent protection creates a method to protect the mobile app’s functions.
In order to be patented, the software developed and used in a particular mobile app must satisfy the criteria of patentability. It must be novel, non-obvious to a person skilled in the field of art, and must have industrial application.
Marketing plays an important role in promoting one’s work or making it successful. A mobile application should have a unique name or an artistic device (logo) or a combination of the two for better marketing and promotion purposes. A unique name or logo would enable consumers to identify the particular application. The name or logo must be short and distinctive. It is advisable that the name or logo of the app closely represent its functionality. It must be catchy enough to gather consumers’ attention.
The popularity of mobile apps is known to everyone today. They not only form a part of fast-moving technology but also hold an important place in a user’s life, enabling them perform trivial tasks of their daily routine. Mobile apps are developed at a very quick pace due to their popularity and high demand.
Securing legal protection for these mobile apps is beneficial to developers and their businesses in the long run. In some cases, the mobile application is just a part of the business, whereas in other cases the mobile application is the business itself. Thus, one should devise a suitable intellectual property protection strategy so as to enjoy the maximum benefits from the mobile app without having to worry about competitors possibly duplicating the app’s technology.
Manisha Singh Nair is a partner and Zoya Nafis is an associate of LexOrbis
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