Greg's bite: apps are intellectual property
By Greg Mills
Remember the recent flap over Apple using a patent drawing based upon the app of a developer? It turns out if you read the fine print Apple is within its rights to use anything submitted to them. Certainly the understanding is that Apple will play fair. See the contract for submission to Apple's iTunes Store at http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/terms.html .
Apple does try to protect trademarks and copyrights, but you do need to have a copyright to see Apple enforce it (see http://www.apple.com/legal/trademark/claimsofcopyright.html)/
Apps developed for the the iOS platform are intellectual property and the authors do have rights that need to be protected by dong the right things to secure those rights. Since apps are basically written code, they are protectable by electronic copyright filing. The fee is $35 (go to http://www.copyright.gov/eco/ ). There are certain rules and acceptable file types that must be uploaded. See http://www.copyright.gov/eco/help-file-types.html for a rather long list of file formats that are acceptable, including PDFs.
Trademarks may be applied for to protect logos and identifiable unique art related to your app.Your cool app button might be something you might want to protect. It costs $275 in fees to the patent office to file a trademark registration. See http://www.uspto.gov/inventors/trademarks.jsp#heading-1 .
Design patents and even utility patents may be obtainable and desirable in some cases. It costs a lot more for patents but the protection extends to anything you can describe that is "novel." What is it that makes your app do things not previously done before? That is what might be patentable. A utility patent protects new things you can do while a design patent narrowly protects the look and feel of what you are doing.
I recommend discussing these issues with a patent attorney if you think your app is valuable enough to protect in some way. I have a trusted attorney working on a US Utility Patent for me right now regarding converting used dual pane glass into solar panels. If you don't know an attorney, I would be glad to refer you to mine. Email me at email@example.com for a reference. Intellectual property legal work can easily be done on line or by phone, so where you live is not as much an issue as a situation where your attorney must go to a local court house to do your business for you.
I see the need for creative people to protect their ideas and the app world is moving swiftly and really good ideas are worth money. We will see that the coming drag and drop "hobby apps" that are created with simple drag and drop software programs that is already in beta for the Android platform and Google will soon be announced by Apple for the iOS platform. Then good ideas "the rest of us" have can be made into simple apps that are posable on line and available to the public free or for a fee.
I expect professional app developers to carefully work through such hobby apps to find the rough gems they can convert into fully functional and polished apps. If you copyright your apps, professional developers would have to share the wealth with you if they want to polish up your hobby app and sell it for the big bucks. If you don't protect your ideas you have given them away for nothing and you will be out of luck when your Hobby App idea makes someone else a lot of money.
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )