4 Types of Intellectual Property You Should Understand

June 26, 2017
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The Four Types of Intellectual Property App Developers Should Understand

The digital age has broadened the horizons for startup companies across the globe. App developing, in particular, has become a very popular route for technology professionals – according to Business of Apps, the total number of software developers, worldwide, is at nearly 19 million. This includes creators of mobile apps, desktop apps, Internet of Things and Cloud services.

Four Types of Intellectual Property App Developers Should Understand

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However, protecting against copying and direct competition isn’t always easy for these developers, which makes an understanding of the different types of intellectual property critical. These creators are likely trademarking their logos and brand names, but they should also consider the possibility of copyrighting and patenting their codes and proprietary algorithms.

Four types of intellectual property

Designing and developing your app is just the first step. Next, you need to seek protection for your creation. Here are the four main types of intellectual property you should be aware of:

          (1) Patents

A patent provides the exclusive right to manufacture, use, sell and import inventions. These creations must relate to eligible subject matter, and utility patents must be novel and non-obvious over previously existing technology. Patents are generally for machines, manufactured devices, compositions of matter or process technology. Some apps may contain patentable underlying computer algorithms. Design patents cover new and ornamental functional designs. User interface icons may be eligible for design patent protection.

Q: Who owns the Intellectual Property?

A: Depending on the contractual agreement, a company may own the patent if the individual inventors assign their rights.

          (2) Trade secrets

A trade secret is proprietary information not generally known which provides a business with an economic advantage over competitors or customers. Examples include proprietary search algorithms and databases customer lists, as well as famous, but secret, recipes, like the Coca-Cola formula.

Q: Who owns the IP?

A: Written contractual agreements will control ownership of trade secret.

          (3) Copyrights

Copyrights extend to the actual software code in the apps, as well as to some aspects of the computer interface. Applicants may request “special relief” to prevent publication of trade secret portions of copyrighted code.

Q: Who owns the IP?

A: The company owns all copyrightable work created by its employees under the “work for hire” doctrine. However, independent contractors own copyright rights unless they assign them to the company.

          (4) Trademarks

Trademarks are for specific words, symbols or designs that specifically identify with a company’s products and services. These can include the company name, logo, or tagline. They can also protect source-identifying sounds and scents.

Q: Who owns the IP?

A: Whoever controls the use of the trademark in interstate commerce while selling or transporting the product or service.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, startup companies who have developed mobile applications should consult with an intellectual property attorney regarding how to protect their product against competitors.

As the world of technology continues to advance through the digital age, the ever-changing industry will face new challenges. If you’re an app developer and would like to learn more about technology and intellectual property, you can reach out to David A. Einhorn and other attorneys at Scarinci Hollenbeck. Our professionals have helped technology clients work through patent, trademark, copyright and other related issues, and continue to stay up-to-date with emerging technologies to provide the best assistance to our clients.