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Going Mobile: 5 Tips on Mobile App Creation

Do you have the next great mobile app idea? Here are 5 tips on the legal side of Mobile App Creation:

Due Diligence. Basically, do your homework. Google your idea and find out if a similar app already exists. Its better to do the leg work at this stage of the game then down the road when you have put money into development.

Preliminary Protection. A lot of the time, people want to talk about their idea to gain feedback or simply want to talk about it out of pure excitement. Please don't ... unless, of course, you have a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement. Not all NDA's are the same. This is such an important point in the early stages of development that I am going to state it again: Not all NDA's are the same. You need one specifically for Intellectual Property Rights. Also, be careful of other parties, such as Mobile App Developers, asking you to sign their NDA. Most likely it is written to protect their company's interest and not yours. Have a lawyer read it over to make sure that you are keeping full control of your intellectual property.

Ownership. Who owns the intellectual property? Once the app is built, who owns the rights? Did you use a work-for-hire agreement*? Are there multiple authors meaning joint ownership? Or, is it just you? Ownership must be established before you can take the next step and acquire advanced protection.

Advanced Protection. Can't I just copyright the idea? Unfortunately, you cannot. However, you can copyright the code used to write the app, artwork, text, etc. In order to keep the copyright in your name, you would need to write the code yourself or hire a programmer on work-for-hire terms. Once the code is written and artwork designed, then it can be filed for protection with the copyright office. At this stage, you can also search to see if your app is something that can be patented. To be on the safe side, register all your materials with the copyright and patent office before the app is launched.

License / Assignment. For most people, this is the most important part because this is how your app makes its revenue. One of the more common ways is by having companies or individuals purchase a license to your app. There are two types of licenses: exclusive and non-exclusive. An exclusive license means you license your app to a company or individual with exclusive terms of use such as a certain geography or client base. For example, Company A wants an exclusive license for North America. This means you cannot license your app to another company or individual in North America. You could, however, give an exclusive license to Company B in Europe. A non-exclusive license allows you to licenses to Company A in North America, but also to anyone else who would want to purchase a license in North America.

Another option is an assignment. In an assignment, you have the option to sell all your rights or sell (or assign) select rights that you have in copyright. For example, in a copyright, you can assign the right to reproduce and the right to distribute, but you might retain the right to make derivatives. Remember, with any assignment, whether you are assigning all or part of the various rights, you are selling your ownership, just as if you were selling your house.

* Work-for-Hire describes works that are produced for somebody else. The person who hires the creator holds the copyright to the finished work.

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See the four part series on Starting a Business:
Part I: Laying a good foundation
Part II: More than one owner
Part III: Safe-guard your product
Part IV: Choosing your Corporate Counsel