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How to Protect Intellectual Property of Your App – A Beginner’s Guide

In today's digital age, applications, whether they're web-based or mobile-based, have become more than just tools; they're essential drivers of business and innovation.





The landscape of businesses, communication, and entertainment is richly populated by apps that make life easier, businesses more efficient, and leisure more enjoyable. With this digital renaissance, protecting the intellectual property (IP) of your app isn't just advisable; it's paramount.

 

After all, in a sea of digital offerings, your app's unique identity, functionality, and content are what set it apart. But how do you safeguard these treasures? The world of IP laws offers a fortress for your app, but it requires careful planning and strategic thinking to navigate. Let's embark on this journey of understanding how to protect your app comprehensively, ensuring it remains your invaluable asset in the digital domain.



Trademark Registration for App’s Name and Icon

 

Imagine your app's name and icon as the flag it flies under in the vast digital ocean, They are a trademark that signal its presence and identity to users, and distinguishes it from others in a crowded marketplace

 

To protect these symbols of your app's brand, trademark registration comes into play. However, it's not as simple as filling out a form. When registering your trademark, you need to think about the scope of protection. It's like choosing the right armour for your app's flag – you want it to be strong and cover all possible threats.

 


Classifications of Goods and Services for Trademark Registration

 

The realm of trademark protection is vast, with many lands (classes of goods and services) to cover. Choosing the right classes determine the strength and scope of your trademark protection.

 

When filing a trademark application, you are required to identify the classifications for the underlying goods and services. Generally there are 45 Classifications for you to choose. Classes 1 to 34 cover goods; whereas Classes 35 to 45 cover services.


Example 1: E-Commerce App

 

For instance, if your app is a bustling e-commerce marketplace, you may wish to cover the following classes.

 

Class 9: This class covers downloadable mobile applications, an essential category for mobile-based retail platforms.

 

Class 42: This includes web-based applications and technical data analysis, crucial for apps that handle large volumes of user data and transactions.

 

Class 35: For apps providing a platform or marketplace where buyers and sellers meet, this class covers the service aspect of the e-commerce environment. Business data analysis can be covered under this class too!


Example 2: Educational Marketplace App

 

On the other hand, if you app is an educational marketplace app, the above classes apply. This reflects the broad utility and function of these categories. Besides, you may wish to add Class 41 to cover educational services.

 

Each class offers protection in different but complementary domains, ensuring your app is safeguarded on all fronts. By carefully selecting relevant classes, you ensure your app's trademark protection is as comprehensive and robust as possible, guarding against any infringement on its identity and operations.

 

Once registered, a trademark offers perpetual protection, subject to renewal every 10 years, thereby securing your app’s identity forever.



Copyright Protection for Computer Code and GUIs


Beneath the surface of every app lies its beating heart: the computer code. This code, whether in the form of source code or object code, is a literary work in the eyes of copyright law, eligible for protection.

 

Meanwhile, the app's graphical user interface (GUI), the face it shows to the world, is protected as an artistic work.

 

The beauty of copyright protection is its automatic nature; from the moment your code and GUI are brought into the world, they're protected, no registration required. Unlike trademark or patent that require registration. This means there's no renewal fee to keep your copyright protection alive – it's like having an eternal shield for your app's core and face. In Malaysia, for example, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years, ensuring long-term safeguarding of your intellectual effort.

 

This aspect is particularly beneficial as it reduces the initial barriers to protection. However, registration, while optional, can provide undeniable legal advantages during disputes.



Patent Protection for the App’s Functionality

 

When is a Patent Applicable?

 

If your app introduces innovative functionalities or methods that offer a novel technical solution, it may qualify for patent protection. This form of IP right grants an exclusive 20-year monopoly on the use of the innovation.


The Challenge of Patenting Software

 

The nature of software—often seen as a set of instructions or algorithms—makes it difficult to patent. As it may be perceived as a mathematical method which fall under non-patentable invention under Section 13(1)(a) of the Malaysian Patents Act 1983. However, if your app's functionality includes unique processes that provide new technical solutions, it may indeed be patentable. It should not be denied a grant of patent merely because it is a computer program.


Patentability Criteria

 

To qualify for a patent, an app must meet three primary criteria, like other inventions:

 

  1. Novelty: The invention must be new and not known to the public before the filing.

  2. Inventive Step: It must represent a non-obvious improvement over existing technologies or practices.

  3. Industrial Applicability: The invention must be usable in some kind of industry, not just theoretical.


Securing a patent requires careful planning, including ensuring that the app or its functionalities are not disclosed publicly before filing. Public disclosure can jeopardize the novelty of the invention and, consequently, its patentability. 

 

Additionally, if international patent protection is desired, applications must adhere to specific timelines outlined by treaties like the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) or Paris Convention.



IP Protection is Territorially Based

 

It's crucial to remember that IP protection does not automatically extend across all borders. It is inherently territorial. Like planting flags in different countries, securing your IP rights requires separate registration in each of the jurisdiction.

 

While international bodies like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) offer systems like the Madrid System for trademarks and PCT for patent, they do not offer unitary registration system. Contrary to the common misunderstanding by the public on the term “International Registration”, the said systems merely facilitate the filing process but the IP is still subject to approval by the IP Office of each country.



Conclusion

 

Understanding and navigating the complexities of IP law is essential for effectively protecting your app. Whether it's through trademarking, copyright, or patenting, each form of protection requires strategic planning and precise execution. Developers and businesses should prepare a detailed IP roadmap, align their strategies with their business goals, and consider international expansions carefully to ensure their innovations are protected across all desired markets. This proactive approach will.


Secure the app’s intellectual assets and support its success in the global digital economy.

 

Contact us today for free consultation to plan a roadmap for your IP protection!



Written by,


Registered Trademark, Patent and Design Agent

LL.B (HONS), CLP

Advocate & Solicitor (Non-Practising)




Disclaimer: The above information is merely for general sharing and does not constitute any legal advice. Readers are advised to seek individual advice from professionals.





© 2024 by IP Gennesis Sdn Bhd.




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