The important things to think about when it comes to protecting your app is to be proactive and quick. It’s also important to consider cost, as IP protection can be expensive. I see two areas of protection that you should address: 1) protecting your liability and 2) protecting your intellectual property (IP). Here’s what you may need in order to protect both aspects:
Protect your liability
- Terms and conditions - this agreement should contain terms which prevent claims initiated by people who use your app. A common feature is a disclaimer that states that you cannot be held responsible for any information that may be displayed incorrectly on your app. It should also state that you cannot be held liable for any information that the user may have depended upon while visiting your app.
Protect your IP
- Confidentiality agreement - make sure that any employees, consultants, programmers, developers etc. sign non-disclosure agreements if they are involved in developing your app. This will inhibit them from sharing your trade secrets.
- IP assignment agreement - if you hire someone to work on your app then make sure they assign to you their claim to the property.
- Copyright - your written code is an original work of authorship, and protected by copyright laws as soon as you create it. It’s worth noting that you’ll have to register your copyright if you ever want to sue someone for infringement. Therefore, registering your copyright provides you with an avenue into court, but also serves to deter people from imitating in the first place. Importantly, many makers of mobile apps use open source code, which is “open” to the public for use and development. Any source code that is not your original work cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Trademark - protect your app’s name, logo, and slogan. Similar to copyright, you have some preliminary protection without registering your trademark, but it’s in your best interest to do so. Registering for a trademark will protect you nationwide (as opposed to your geographic location), provide notice and deters others who might consider using your app's name, and allow you to sue in federal court for infringement of your registered trademark.
- Patent - the most expensive and complex form of IP protection. You need to first ask yourself: Is your invented app really patentable? To be accepted, the invention must be novel or confers a new solution to a technical problem. There’s a lot more to consider with patents, but it’s extremely recommended to consult with a patent attorney if you’re going to head in this direction.
If you’re still curious, check out the USPTO website.