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One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how a client can protect the ideas in the new mobile app she is creating. The three most common ways of protecting IP are patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Unfortunately, none of these are effective in protecting a developer’s idea. A patent protects an idea but it is highly unlikely that the idea underlying a mobile app—no matter how clever—rises to the level of novelty required for patent protection. So, what about copyrights? Well, a copyright only protects the expression of the idea—not the idea itself. That means a copyright can protect your source code and maybe even the look and feel of your app but not the concept of the app itself. Finally, there are trademarks. Trademarks, however, only protect your brand—not your idea. Is there anything you can do?  Kind of. You can protect your ideas before the mobile app is launched using the oft forgotten concept of trade secrets.


 
 
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Many people do not take the Terms of Use (also called Terms of Service or Terms and Conditions) very seriously. The agreement can be many pages long and usually doesn’t even require the user to expressly accept its terms. So most people don’t even read them…but, in most cases, your use of the mobile app or website, is construed as your agreement to these terms (which can change at any time, by the way) and they constitute a legally binding agreement between the provider of the software and the user. 

You got that, right? When you are using a mobile app, you are “signing” a contract with the app provider.