The way copyright works to protect an app provides useful insights into copyright generally. Essentially, the important point to hold onto about copyright is that the default rules mean that the creator of the app will be the owner of the copyright in it rather than you the person who pays for the development work.
Therefore, an important first step before you select the right developer is to make sure they will be happy to give you a copyright in the end product.
However, don’t just have a verbal agreement on this point as that’s not enough under the law. You’ll need to reflect this in writing and also have a good development agreement in place. That agreement should clearly specify what is the be developed, the phases of the development, the payment plan, and how to resolve any disputes that may arise. Don’t agree to terms that only give you copyright when the project is concluded and you’ve paid for it. If for any reason you need to part company with the developer before then, you will want to have the source code and all rights in the work so you can find another developer to finish the work.
It’s also important to be mindful about the limitations of copyright protection. Copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than an idea itself.
This means that if I publish a recipe for how to make rabbit pie, my copyright in the recipe isn’t going to prevent you or anyone else from making the rabbit pie using my recipe. You would not be infringing my copyright in doing so.
If, on the other hand, you copied my recipe and distributed it to others, then my rights would be infringed because copyright protects the way I’ve expressed my idea. The law gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to copy the recipe in order to distribute it to others.
Translating that into how copyright protects an app means that if someone sees your app and decides they can do better than you, say you’re Magic Cabs and an Uber comes along, looks at your app, and thinks, this is a good idea, I’ll also develop an app along similar lines, they can do so without infringing your copyright. The only way they would be infringing your copyright is if they actually copied the code of your app. But if they got the idea from seeing your app and then go away and implemented the idea in their own way they would not be infringing your copyright.
So, when you have an idea for a new app bear in mind that innovation alone is no guarantee of success. You need to do thorough research, set your marketing strategy, and consider how best to develop the app to meet a market need. You can achieve a strong barrier to entry with the name you use for your app if it’s well conceived and addresses a market need. Be sure to pay close attention to the intellectual property rights around names before you buy domain names.
If you need to raise investment, while you may believe your idea is unique, bear in mind that investors will often be approached by numerous start-ups, some of whom may have very similar apps. So, don’t make the fundamental error of asking them to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement to look at your app idea. You need to have taken all the necessary steps to protect your idea before you turn to investors. There should at least be a proof of concept for them to see, and if yours is a product that could be patented, then you need to file the patent-pending application before discussing the idea with third parties. Only confidential ideas that are not in the public domain are patentable.
So, once you’re ready to discuss your idea with investors you should be in a position to do it openly without need of NDAs.
Essentially, there is no guaranteed formula for success. There will be aspects to your business plan which you cannot control, yet they may have a great impact on your chances of success. Factors include national and global economic climate, geographic location, trends in popular culture, access to valuable contacts. Plain old luck also plays a part.
Obtaining financing is not necessarily about the technical feasibility or the originality of the idea itself. Sometimes, it can be more about you as a person, and whether you are aware of the qualities and skill sets needed to convince the right people to support you.
Private investors (also known as Venture Capitalists or Angel Investors) take a lot of interest in the make-up of the team. Often, they are very interested in the people that are backing the idea. They are predominately looking for a person who, as one investor put it, has the ‘disease of entrepreneurism’. For most investors, the personal dimension is so important that they would even invest in an average idea if the people were right. This suggests that if you’re looking for financial backing for your app, you should have entrepreneur drive, and some of the key skills that potential investors will look for in you are inventiveness; creative ability; the ability to package and communicate ideas. Without this, it is difficult to get the necessary investor confidence.
This blog has highlighted how copyright works, what it does and doesn’t protect, and the importance of first protecting your idea before turning to investors for funding.
Given the traits investors will look for before investing in your ideas, there are areas of self-development to consider if your vision is for something big. Focus on developing some key qualities, such as leading a team, which is essential for success in business. You’ll need to ‘re-invent’ yourself or find the right team to work with who can make up skills that may be lacking in you.
Shireen Smith will be doing a livecast where she will be discussing the legal agreements involved in brand identity creation as well as what identity work involves, including name, logo and tagline on 30 January 2019.
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