Guest post by Cory H.

A great idea is often followed by an enthusiastic foray into development. Often, in the excitement of the creative process, the last thing on a person’s mind is the legal implications of producing and distributing a piece of software. In fact, even before development begins, the first thing developers should do is outline ways to protect their ideas from competitors as well as ways to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. Paying attention to legal precautions will also make getting their application certified by Apple a relatively easy process.

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In September of 2010, it was revealed in “The Situation,” a reality TV star from the show Jersey Shore, was in danger of being sued over his degrading iPhone app. The application includes a game called “The Grenade Dodger,” where “The Situation” tries to dodge “grenades” (unattractive women) as they fall from the sky. To make the game as authentic as possible, pictures of actual women were surreptitiously taken to be used as the “grenades.” When the women found out they were being featured, they were horrified, and at least one threatened to sue. Though taking pictures of a person in a public setting is perfectly legal (in most cases), using a person’s image for profit generally requires a release form.

In fact, the main reason iPhone application developers get into trouble is because they illegally collect and distribute personal information, such as a user’s location, identity, or other data. Before developing an iPhone application, a developer needs to take into account not only federal privacy laws, but state and international privacy laws, as well. Anything that is not an original creation- i.e. music, images, etc.- needs to be licensed to the developer.

Developers also need to pay close attention to whether or not their idea is completely original; intellectual infringement is another reason iPhone application developers find themselves in court. Whether intentional or inadvertent, an iPhone application should not be a copycat of another application, and should not be based upon a pre-existing, copyrighted game. Creating an application based on a favorite PC game without consent opens the door to infringement liability.

Apple has its own contract, the SDK Agreement, which all developers are required to sign before they become Apple certified. The agreement has incurred controversy over its strict guidelines; nevertheless, complying with the agreement protects the company and will help a new iPhone application be come accepted by Apple.

Developers also need to protect themselves from infringement. A good policy to live by is to file your iPhone application before launching it. Securing a patent is the best way to protect your original concept. Other ways for developers to protect their applications?

Non-disclosure or Confidentiality Agreements: When working with other developers, or hiring employees to help with the development or marketing process, all parties working on the application should sign a confidentiality agreement which ensures that they cannot legally share certain information about the project with any third parties.

Software Development Agreements: Before selling their iPhone app, developers should outline their specific terms, such as who retains ownership of the intellectual property rights, including copyrights, and how profits will be distributed to each party.

These are inexpensive and effective ways to protect ideas from being stolen, and to keep common misunderstandings during the development and marketing process at bay. These things should be taken into consideration as soon as possible; it only takes one person to swoop in and take credit for an unprotected piece of software.

Sources: UnderDevelopmentLaw, Lowenstein & Click2creation

This was a guest post by Cory Howell. As a software developer, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your software, your business and your well-being. It pays to develop and utilize enforceable legal forms and agreements for your software development business.


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