So I have heard of trademarks and trade secrets and that they are helpful for protecting your app but I really didn’t know too much about them. Let’s talk about both of those and try to really understand them and then understand their impact on app development.
So like a copyright, you get some rights without having to do anything on your part. Simply by using your logo or some other symbol representing your product it can be your trademark. This is referred to as a “common law” trademark. But even more so than copyright laws, these “common law” trademarks don’t buy you a lot. It becomes much more difficult to stop someone else from using a very similar trademark if you haven’t registered it with the USPTO. On the US Patent and Trademark website there is a lot of information that should be very useful to you on trademarks; it even has step by step instructions for how to file a trademark online. Filling a trademark provides you many more benefits and makes it significantly easier to defend your trademarks. Once something has been trademarked with the USPTO you have the right to use the ® symbol after your trademark allowing you to more easily build brand reputation. In short, trademarks prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark.
So now that we have talked about how to get a trademark, what exactly is a trademark? To quote WiseGEEK they said “Generally speaking, a trademark is a word, symbol, phrase or device which uniquely identifies a particular company or individual” (WiseGEEK – What is a trademark?). Common examples of well-known trademarks are Coca-Cola, the apple logo, the android guy, the Nike “swoosh”, and the Nike phrase “just do it”.
From what I have read this may be one of the ways to get the most “bang for the buck” on protecting your app. And although a trademark does not protect your idea you can trademark the logo/symbol/mark of your app or company and start to build brand equity. So that when the app copy cats come along people will recognize and think of your app when they go to look for apps in your specialized area.
In order to create a strong trademark, you need to choose something that doesn’t seem obvious. Extremely obvious names (cough cough, like my app, Food Substitutes) are very hard to trademark because the name more explain the app. But for example if you choose names that are made up, like Google, Exxon, or Groupon, or names that are non-obvious like Apple for a computer company it becomes much easier to trademark. Even though, it makes sense to choose an obvious name, it may be more difficult in the long run to protect that time. For example, how many recipe apps are there out there? If you were going to come out with the best recipe app and called it “recipes”, there would be no stopping someone else from creating an app with the same name. Instead coming up with a name like BigOven is much easier to trademark. The same is true with icons. If you created a recipe app and you icon was just something that displayed the word recipes or a math app that just had the plus sign symbol it would be difficult to protect. But if you do something to the app to make it more distinctive, like choosing a logo that appears like the top of an oven in a text bubble, it becomes easier to trademark.
In summary of trademarks they are very important. If you gain any popularity at all you should file your trademark with the USPTO. Remember to be non-obvious and distinctive with your potential trademarks. Trademarks are one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to protect your app.
So I wanted to include some information about trade secrets in here because I didn’t really know what it meant previously. I had a guess but I wasn’t entirely sure. Trade Secrets are just that, secrets of your trade. You don’t have to do anything special to file your trade secret. In fact you don’t have to file your trade secret at all. All you have to do is take reasonable steps to make sure your secrets stay secret and if they are stolen from you, you can the entity that stole it from you.
An example of something you might want to keep as a trade secret would be the ideas of your next app, the planned list of features that you are going to add to your app overtime, or a really efficient algorithm that does something much faster or better than what is currently out there.
So in order to keep something as a trade secret you need to take some action steps on your part.
- Caution: If you are careless or negligent with whom you talk to or what you write about, you would not be able to up hold you trade secret. The same goes for your employees, if you have any, make sure they keep confidential things confidential.
- Contractual Protection: Make sure that you make use of non-disclosure agreements if you need to share any information with someone who is not part of your company. Make sure your employees, if you have any, are under contract to maintain confidentiality about your ideas. Make sure any confidential documents are marked confidential.
- Source Code: Make sure your source code is protected and that there is some security measures in place to access it.
- Bitlaw – Common Law Trademark Rights
- USPTO – FAQ about Trademarks
- Wikipedia – Trademark
- Traverse Legal Attorney’s – What are common law trademark rights?
- Stackoverflow – Android App Name Trademark
- Pipers Patent Attorneys – What is a Trademark?
- Wikipedia – Trade secret
- Gallagher & Dawsey- Trade Secrets 101
- HubPages – What are Trade Secrets?
- IP Registration and Enforcement Blog – What are Trade Secrets, and How Can I protect mine? Part 1 (of 3 parts)