Mobile apps are part of our daily lives and most of us use a couple of different apps every day. The average smartphone owner uses 10 apps per day and 30 per month. The Apple store has 2 million apps available for download and the Google play store has 2.9 million app available for download. According to Statista, 230 billions apps were downloaded in 2021 !
Mobile apps are used to check the weather forecast, to book our next travel trip, to follow our physical activity, to discuss with our friends, to learn a foreign language, to check our bank account, or even to monitor our pets at home. The list is endless, yet constantly evolving.
You may have developed a mobile app or thinking of doing so but you don't know yet how to protect it. You are at the right place, we will discuss your different options.
What is a mobile App ?
According to Wikipedia®, a mobile application or app is a computer program or software application designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone, tablet or watch. Mobile applications often stand in contrast to desktop applications which are designed to run on desktop computers and web applications which run in mobile web browsers rather than directly on the mobile device.
A mobile app can be characterised by several elements such as a logo, an app name, one or more databases, a software, a graphical interface, and multimedia elements (sound, text, video, etc.). Most of these elements can be protected by copyright, which is automatically acquired subject to originality, but not only!
The name and/or the logo
The name and/or logo of your mobile app can be protected as a trademark if these elements are intended to be exploited commercially and aim to distinguish products and/or services from those of your competitors. Such protection requires you to file the trademark before the trademark office of the country in which you intend to gain protection. Such filing should be performed by a trademark attorney to optimize the protection.
This is often the first protection to be considered, as it could be catastrophic to communicate on a name that is not available and could lead to a name change a few years after the launch of your app.
It is therefore crucial to carry out a preliminary search to check whether your name/logo is available or not.
There are countless cases where companies in the early stage avoid such availability searches, believing that such costs are useless, and then need to change their whole communication a few months/years later when after receiving a a complaint from a third party company holding protection on the name used. Don’t add your name to such case laws and entrust your trademark attorney to perform such an availability search !
The architecture of the database, i.e. the container, can be protected by copyright provided it is original. In addition, the content of the database benefits from the sui generis right, which protects the producer, i.e. the person who invested in the database, under certain conditions. Such protection makes it possible, where appropriate, to prohibit the extraction and/or re-use of all or part of the elements making up the database.
The mobile app software typically comprises source and object code which can be protected through copyright subject to originality. A registration with an author's society dedicated to software makes it possible to obtain a certain date of possession of the work and to designate the object protected. This registration thus makes it possible to fight against a slavish copy of your application. However, it will not be very effective if a competitor makes an application based on a different source code, but which has equivalent functionalities.
This is where patent protection comes in. Although it is legally true that software as such is excluded from the field of patentable innovations, practice shows that it is actually quite possible to protect software by patent, not only in the United States, but also in Europe and in many countries.
To do so, one must not only master the subtleties of patent law, but also be imaginative in the way one presents the invention.
The general principle is that software can be protected by patent if the invention meets the conditions for patentability and has a technical character.
Technical character is established when the software produces an additional technical effect, i.e. a technical effect going beyond the "normal" physical interaction between a computer program (software) and the computer (hardware) on which it runs.
For example, in the last months, our firm has been able to secure a patent protection for :
- A software for determining the position of a moving target,
- A software for the automatic segmentation of a dental arch,
- A software for controlling and tracking drones,
- A software for photorealistic display of a 3D object in an augmented reality application
- A software for identifying the use of proprietary computer files,
- A software for generating 3D models from 2D images produced by a single device,
- A software for processing images to automatically estimate the position of a device,
- A software for determining an optimal insertion location of a needle,
- A software for encrypting electronic communications.
In practice, there is almost always a way to file a serious patent application protecting a software, and especially a software involved in a mobile app.
It is therefore usually possible to combine copyright and patent law to protect the software implemented within the application.
The graphical interface of your app is also protected by copyright, provided that it is original, but also by design law, provided that it meets the conditions of novelty and distinctiveness.
In summary, there are many ways for protecting a mobile app. These different protecting options must of course be studied and adapted to your needs and business strategy.
A strong IP strategy is not the one that will make you file lots of patents or trademarks, but the one that will optimally use the required IP right in relation to your tailored Intellectual Property roadmap. Quality rather than quantity!
Let’s talk about it !
Find all our articles on intellectual property on our blog #IPBoardingPass.
-> Follow us on Linkedin not to miss any new release