So you’ve got a great idea for a new app and think it could be the next best thing? If you find yourself in this situation, naturally your biggest concern will be protecting the idea. I don’t blame you either, intellectual property theft is a significant issue that results in millions of dollars being lost every year.
Unfortunately, from a legal standpoint, there isn’t much protection. Trademarks, copyright and patent laws all protect the expression of ideas but not the actual idea.
The following document portrays the damage intellectual property theft had in 2017. It also highlights some of the countries that have some of the worst offenders.
This obviously isn’t all about app ideas but it does back up your concern. Knowing that there are people willing to steal your ideas means you shouldn’t be too concerned about being overprotective. Although, I will come to that later on in the article.
Let’s move on and discuss some good practices that can help keep your app ideas safe and secure.
Sharing Information Selectively
Naturally, when you brew up an amazing idea you’ll want to share it. This is one of the worst things you can do because people talk. You might not have the skills to create the app yourself, so you’re probably thinking, “how can I get quotes from developers without telling them all the information needed?”.
I recommend going to the app store and finding an app similar to your idea. Don’t pick something like eBay or Linkedin, stay clear of the huge brands. Instead, try and find something that’s a bit simpler like torch apps, utility apps, shopping apps, photography, etc.
Pitch them that idea instead of your specific concept. You’ll then get a rough idea for a price and it means you don’t have five developers knowing your app idea.
After you’ve chosen a developer that you believe can fulfill the app briefly and do it for the best price, you can get them to sign an NDA. This is something most software developers will be used to.
Get A Non Disclosure Agreement
Use an NDA with anyone who needs to know about your app idea in the early stages. You should definitely screen everyone before they find out about your app. There isn’t a reputable company out there that won’t fully appreciate the requirement of a signed NDA. Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, this is business.
By working with an NDA you’ll find it will whittle out the companies that are unprofessional. Most companies have contracts with a clause in it that basically states that employees can’t start a company similar to theirs or any of their clients for at least two years.
There are companies that can advise you with the best procedures to take in situations like this. For example, Goodwin Law specializes in helping technology companies.
Create a Paper Trail
Document as much as you can, if you have a paper trail, you will have proof if anything ever goes wrong. I recommend anyone working with freelancers or agencies to have as much of the conversation via email or in writing. This should include confirming what was discussed during meetings and having both parties sign the meeting notes.
This is a good practice for a number of reasons. If something isn’t done correctly, you now have a place of reference to go back to.
If your idea is stolen, you also have some security in knowing you could take them to court over the issues. A famous case that you may have seen on screen is the Facebook Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss case. They sued Facebook for 11 million pounds and then invested that money into Bitcoin. Causing them to become the world’s first Bitcoin Billionaires.
Please bear in mind that expression of ideas is protected by copyright laws, not the ideas themselves. This means if a developer or designer created an application for you, they will own the application unless you have a contract written beforehand that expresses all copyrights of the app are to be passed over to you when the project is completed.
Trademark Your Name
Obtaining a patent can be an expensive and lengthy process but it can be well worth it. Remember, an idea can’t be patented but you can trademark the brand name or the app name. This might not actually protect your app but it helps to create that paper trail I previously mentioned. It also helps mark a set point in time, so if anyone was to ever dispute the timing of an idea’s inception, then this is a great way of establishing dates.
Okay, so you can’t trademark the app idea but you could trademark an app that is already built. If you have a working app and the copyrights get transferred over by any third parties, you’ll have the ultimate protection. It’s at this point where no one can reverse engineer your app or steal your code. If they do you probably have enough grounds to sue if you have followed all the other steps in this blog.
Don’t live in fear of your idea being stolen
The odds that your idea will be stolen are slim, and as much as we need to be protective it can sometimes kill opportunities. Living in fear slows productivity down and prevents opportunities. For example, let’s say you go and meet a big-time investor and he asks for some more details on a part of your pitch you’ve not really expanded on.
You then ask him to sign an NDA before you give more details causing the investor to be a little bit disgruntled. He then declines and you lose the capital, advice and networking opportunities from the potential investor. This is a scenario that actually happens quite often, and the only piece of advice I can really give you with this is to 1) follow your gut and 2) do your due diligence on the investor beforehand. Get to know his personality/investment history. Does he have any bad press or strike you as a person you couldn’t work with?
If you follow your gut you will have no regrets.
Living in fear prevents feedback too and without feedback, you could potentially be shooting yourself in the foot. We need to remember that there aren’t many people out there who make it their sole purpose to steal app ideas and there are even fewer people who will actually steal an idea and execute it as well as you would.