It is hard to imagine a world without mobile apps. They add so much to our lives, in the form of entertainment, the ability to remain healthy, music, managing finances, planning travel – in fact, almost every aspect of our lives are affected by apps.
As to how many mobile apps are available, the figures are mind-blowing - there are approximately 3.04 million apps on the Google Store and an estimated 2.09 million apps exist on the Apple App Store. In addition, there is good news in terms of growth opportunities for businesses launching an app for mobile devices.
According to Grand View Research, the international mobile application market size, currently valued at USD 170.52 billion, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.5% between 2020 and 2027.
For small business owners creating an app legal issues must be considered to ensure their commercial interests are protected. To help guide you we discuss the top 5 legal requirements that will help protect your app idea.
1. Ownership of the app
The general rule of app ownership is that whoever writes the software code owns the app and the authorship of the code is protected by copyright. Of course, if one of your employees writes the code during their employment, the ownership usually belongs to the company.
During the app development process, many startups engage a third-party developer or development company to write the software code. It is vital to ensure that the contract between your business and the developer states clearly that you own the present and future rights related to the software code.
For further copyright protection, ensure any third-party developers you instruct sign a confidentiality agreement (also known as a non-disclosure agreement) which covers matters such as market research, plans for the app, potential users, testing data, and any other important information that could be deemed confidential.
2. Licence and distribution agreements
To reach users, your new app must be available through major platforms such as App Store and Google Play Store. You will need to agree to the terms of an operator’s licence and distribution agreement. Examples of such agreements include Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement or the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.
You will need to carefully read over these terms and conditions, especially those concerning content, marketing, privacy, and ongoing support.
As you can well imagine, Apple and Google will not negotiate on their terms so to avoid user complaints and being deleted from the app store, it is wise not to launch the app until it is fully compliant with the operator’s agreement.
Think about the most successful apps such as Headspace, Spotify, and MyFitnessPal. One thing they all have in common is extremely strong brands. This ensures users can distinguish between the aforementioned apps and the hundreds of competitors essentially offering the same content/functions.
Applying for a trademark can be a complex process and you may need to instruct an experienced Intellectual Property Solicitor to run a trademark clearance search and apply for both a UK trademark and protection in other relevant jurisdictions.
4. Intellectual property for mobile applications
Do not misjudge how easy it is to infringe someone else’s intellectual property rights when developing your mobile app. You must be careful never to copy part of another business’s software/source code without first obtaining a licence. If you are using open-source software be mindful of any conditions of use. It is also important to have clear terms regarding intellectual property infringement set out in the developer’s agreement.
Find out more about how to protect your apps copyright.
5. International laws for apps
The wonderful thing about the internet is it is borderless. A business in Japan can create a mobile app to be used by people from as far away as the UK. Care must be taken, however, to ensure your marketing and distribution practices comply with consumer protection, data protection, and software licensing laws in other jurisdictions.
If your mobile app is being marketed in other jurisdictions such as the EU, America, and the South Pacific, you will need to partner with a Commercial Law Solicitor who can advise you on various laws your small business will need to comply with.
Getting compliance right at the beginning of the process will save an enormous amount of time, money, and stress as it will mitigate your risk of future cross-border regulatory investigations or intellectual property infringement claims.
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There is no doubt that developing and successfully distributing a popular mobile app is an exciting business for anyone to be in. The continuous development of online technology truly provides opportunities for SMEs to change the world. Ensuring you have considered and put in place measures to manage the above five legal issues related to mobile apps will play a significant part in your business’s success.
If you need further support from one of our Commercial Law Solicitors with your app development project, you can find out more about our software and app development agreement review service and book a free 15 minute consultation.