Designing an app is an endeavor that has potential to be mired in myriad legal entanglements depending on where it’s developed. Particularly when you’re creating an app for someone else, who owns the intellectual property rights can get a little complicated without working it out during the creation process. Take a look at some of the intellectual property issues you should think about if you’re creating an app for a vendor, working with other people or using existing material through open source software.
Figuring Out Who Owns the Rights
If you’re creating an app all on your own, you’ll automatically own the intellectual property rights to the code you create, regardless if you file it in the U.S. copyright office. However, officially copyrighting your app code is beneficial in situations where you have to prove your ownership during a lawsuit. While it takes a little time to file a copyright, it’s beneficial if you’re the only one at the helm.
When you have a partnership in creating an app, you have to work out a contract and decide who might own what. It can be divided up evenly or decided upon based on how much work one of the partners put into the app design. If a company is involved, they may claim part ownership in the intellectual property.
If you were hired by a company to design the app, it’s possible you’ll have to sign a “work for hire” contract. Under those agreements, the company retains ownership of the intellectual property, even though you did the design work. In order to gain some ownership, you’d have to negotiate with the company on terms beforehand.
The Legal Problems Working with Open Source Software
Having an intellectual property lawyer work out these issues is nearly imperative so you don’t overlook anything.
Scoping Out Trademarks and Other Protected Properties
Most app designers want to create something as original as possible. However, sometimes there might be pictures, graphics or other digital property that you’ll want to incorporate into the design. Before you do, make sure to check out the copyrights on them and see if they’re in the public domain or require permission. Plenty of stock photography exists that you can use on your apps to stay safe.
Also check the trademarks on the name, idea and basic design of your app to see if it’s been done before. While you can get away with some similarity, too much of it will put you in jeopardy of litigation.
Consider that some apps use contributions from users that could be legally protected material. You have to police your app regularly and remove anything that looks like it was copyrighted. You also have to prove that you’re not profiting from having any of that material there if you decide not to remove it.
Yes, it’s a wide, tangled legal world when designing a new app. As digital intellectual property laws become more complex, it’s worth your while to be astute to everything you do in your app design without constricting your free flow of creativity.