4 Ways to Protect Your App Idea Which Every Serious App Entrepreneurs Must Know About

March 25, 2015

Andrew (A.J.) Tibbetts

(As published by the App Entrepreneurs Association)

A lot of app entrepreneurs become victims of IP theft and most of the time it is totally avoidable. In this blog post we look at a few different ways to protect your idea.

Diligent record keeping and clear agreements between any founders or other contributors to the ideas should be a cornerstone to any protection plan, and will help with internal protection.

4 Types of Intellectual Property Protection

With respect to protection from competitors, there are four main types of intellectual property to consider developing for the business, each of which may have its place in an IP strategy.


Copyright is a well-known form of IP, but the strength of protection it offers is often over-estimated. While copyright may extend to code or to UI elements, it only protects against exact duplicates.

An easy analogy for copyright is that it protects against using a photocopier on your app. Any variations may be enough for competitors to get around any copyrights you have in the app. Copyright is cheap, though, and can provide protection against the more flagrant copiers.


Trademarks can protect the “buzz” of your app: the brand recognition you have built up among a user base around your name, logo, slogan, or in some cases certain UI styles. Protecting your name or logo can help prevent others from profiting on your work by creating products with similar names or other elements to confuse potential customers into buying their product instead of yours.


Patents are a strong form of IP that protect the functionality of an app, and protect it even against variations or independent development by a competitor.

Only new and non-obvious functionalities are patentable, and the functionalities have to be new and non-obvious even in view of some of a developer’s own public prior work, making it important to file before or soon after making any public disclosures.

Securing patent rights requires submission of a lengthy application and a thorough examination process, which can make obtaining the strong protection offered by a patent costly. A “provisional” application can be filed as an optional first step to delay some of the expense of patent rights by up to one year, but provisional applications have their own dangers that can result from not investing sufficient time and resources in preparing them.

Whether to file a provisional application should be carefully evaluated with your attorneys before that step is taken.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are an oft-misunderstood form of IP but can be important.

First, in many states only things (processes, ideas, client lists, strategies, etc.) that provide an articulable business advantage can be protected with trade secrets; the protection is unavailable for run-of-the-mill ideas.

Second, for something to be truly considered a trade secret, it must be treated by the business as a valuable secret, and many steps must be taken to demonstrate that secrecy is being actively maintained. Many people who declare they have a “trade secret” may not have one, because they do not satisfy one or both of these factors. If you intend to rely on trade secret protection, it is important that you consult with an attorney to determine whether the protections you have imposed for your ideas are sufficient.

Where Does an NDA Come into the Picture?

As mentioned above, record keeping can be an important part of an IP strategy for a company. You should always document who you discussed aspects of your ideas with, and what you discussed. An NDA can be an important part of that record keeping and can demonstrate that you and the other party agreed that the information will be kept private rather than made public. It can be a good idea to use an NDA where feasible. Some parties, like potential investors, will not sign NDAs, though. In these cases, especially, record keeping can be valuable.

In any case, though, it’s important to remember that having a written contract in the form of an NDA only gives you the ability to sue someone for breaching the NDA, and no company wants to litigate, especially on something like this. As with any business transaction, before sharing information, make sure the other party is trustworthy.