Intellectual Property and the Protection of Apps in the European Union
Applications (‘apps’) for mobile platforms – such as mobile phones or tablets – are a product of the digital age, usually with specific characteristics that set them apart from other types of computer software, for instance from applications designed for desktop computers. Producing these apps can be a lucrative business and for some companies the use of apps has become vital. As apps have become embedded in both the personal and commercial contexts, it is not surprising that competition in apps markets has become intense and that apps may be vulnerable to unauthorised copying. The question then arises: what forms of protection can intellectual property (IP) rights offer app developers? Determining the best and most cost-effective forms of IP protection can be difficult for app developers.
In this article the various components of apps are examined individually and an analysis is made of which forms of IP would be the most suitable. These components are (i) the source code, (ii) the Graphical User Interface (GUI), (iii) movements and transitions, and (iv) logos, icons and fonts used in an app. The focus is on copyright, design and trademark rights rather than patents, as patents are generally less relevant to the average app developer. What the analysis reveals is that the IP protection of digital components is still in the main ‘unexplored territory’. Although the law is relatively clear with regard to some aspects, it still contains grey areas as well due to a lack of case law.
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