AppBoard Tuesday – Legal Issues That Mobile App Developers Need to Be Wary Of

By | August 19, 2014
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Tired bodies but happy minds and giggling faces – this is probably the perfect description of the Teks team this week. The Story Time Monsoon Camp that we were building up for over the last few weeks went ahead without a hitch, the participation figures were (let’s be frank here!) slightly beyond our expectations – and I would like to doff my hat (if I was wearing one, that is!) to the rain gods for staying away over the weekend too. Full event report and pictures are coming soon – right on this blog.

Anyway, let’s turn our attention back towards the nitty-gritty of mobile app development for the time being. Something that keeps bugging me – and I’m sure many of you are bothered by it as well – is the scant regard most mobile app developers have for legal issues and considerations. One of the biggest reasons behind app-rejection at iTunes is submission of plagiarized applications, while there are many other things that a professional developer needs to: a) be aware of, and b) abide by. Let’s take a quick look as to what these issues are, what say?:

 

  1. Intellectual property rights – You do all the hard work, and someone else simply saunters along and pinches your app concepts and designs. Not something you would like to happen, right? Be aware of the patents and copyrights that you should get on your app name, graphic designs, functions and other features. Of course, if you are developing apps for third-party clients, you will have to transfer these rights to them – once the app development projects are complete.
  2. You and your company need to be separate entities – I am the head of Teknowledge Software, but my company has a separate entity from mine. Ideally, your Android or iPhone application development company should be structured in the form of a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. If, God forbid, your business takes a nosedive – at least your personal belongings would remain safe.
  3. Collect only the data that matters – Representatives from any good mobile app agency are aware of the easy availability and the importance of app analytics (in other words, user-data). What’s often not emphasized is that, such data has to be handled extremely carefully. Do not keep collecting data for the heck of it – and preferably, let buyers know that the app is creating a database on their behavior, for providing better user-experience over time. Do not share user-data with any unauthorized person/company for purely commercial purposes. Violation of confidentiality can lead you to a legal soup, and damage your company’s goodwill forever.
  4. Think beyond boilerplate web pages – Mobile app companies need to have fast, easily accessible, detailed and informative websites. However, many developers feel that having a static ‘Terms & Conditions’/’Terms of Use’ page is all that’s required to protect the licence of their apps. This is a wrong, and potentially misleading approach to adopt. Each individual app should have its own license documents and manuals, explaining the functions it can and cannot perform (online and offline). A web page gives a macro-idea of your business policies – and you need to take care of the individual applications separately. Never overpromise and underdeliver!
  5. Be transparent in your financial transactions – Almost every company – be it in India, or in the United States or any other nation, offers free Android/iPhone app quotes to clients. Sadly, many of them have concealed fine print in their detailed service documents – which lead to hidden costs, and spiralling charges. You need to disclose your app development charges (at least, a fairly accurate estimate) at the very start. Remember, you can deceive a couple of customers and make good money from it – but the bad word-of-mouth publicity will ultimately ruin your business (let’s not even bring up the chances of penal actions here).
  6. Be aware of platform-specific regulations – The idea of offering handsome rewards/prizes to people who view and/or post fake reviews about your new app sounds pretty smart, right? The teeny-weeny li’l problem in this fraudulent practice is, your app will be banned/rejected at iTunes. Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone also have their own sets of regulations (although they are less stringent). Those who are into cross-platform mobile app development simply cannot afford to ignore these considerations.
  7. Agreements with freelancers – If your company hires mobile app developers on a freelance basis (in addition to those employed full-time), you need to be doubly careful about copyright issues. Ideally, you should draw up and get the freelancer(s) sign a detailed ‘Work-for-Hire Agreement’. This document would help you retain the intellectual property rights over the source codes and programs used for creating the apps. The agreement should be entered into before a freelancer starts working for you.
  8. Additional considerations while making kids’ apps – Making games and mobile apps for kids might seem easy at first – but they are, in fact, the trickiest. You should never ever include any in-app purchase/download options in a children’s app – without clearly mentioning it in the app documents. A kid is not supposed to know how and where money might be accidentally spent, and if parents find out that your app has such shady methods of earning money, your company might even be sued!
  9. Use of device resources – Some apps require access to mobile camera, others need to get data from contact lists, while there are many applications which need other resources of the users’ phones. This generally involves the inclusion of cookies by the apps on the smartphones/tablets on which they are installed. Make sure that your app is not accessing any user-data without asking for ‘permissions’ first. You should be aware of what app cookies are all about as well.
  10. Need for trademark for brand-creation – Our Story Time For Kids app is immensely popular – and we have recently started selling printed storybooks under the ‘Story Time’ brand name too. If you wish to leverage your app name as a brand for other products, you need to have a trademark on the former. Do not confuse the ‘trade name’ of your mobile software company with ‘trademarks’.

Before starting on any new app project, a thorough research is necessary – to ensure that similar apps do not already exist at the online stores (‘inspired’ apps, like the ones similar to ‘Flappy Bird’ might be successful, but you need not take such chances randomly). If you have a free app and wish to monetize it through in-app advertising, make sure that ads do not hamper user-experience. Staying transparent in your business policies and sticking to a strong code of ethics is an absolute must for any mobile application development agencies. Teknowledge Software values these principles above everything else.

 

Well then, that would be that for this week’s edition of AppBoard Tuesday. By the way, during the Independence Day weekend, our new iPhone app for kids – Kids’ Tiles – got accepted at iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kids-tiles/id898758246?ls=1&mt=8). Check it out and do give us your feedback. If you are in the app development business, please share any legal issues that your company might have faced in the past. We all learn from experiences.

 

AppBoard Tuesday will return next week – with another interesting aspect on mobile apps and their usage. Stay zapped with apps…and follow our blog for regular updates!

 

Hussain Fakhruddin
Follow me

Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
Follow me
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *