Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Has great idea for an iPhone app; fears ripoff

Dear Rich: I have what I believe is a great idea for an iPhone app. The problem is that I'm afraid to submit it to those companies that require you to submit your idea for a quote, because I believe that they may never get back to me and make the app themselves. Is there a way for me to copyright my app idea so that no one can create one that is similar?? Do you happen to know who I need to speak with? Do you mean who you can speak with at the Dear Rich Staff headquarters. Usually, operators are standing by to take your call but right now most of them are either too absorbed finishing the last book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy (or they're waiting for the DVD of the first book). 
Right you had a question. The short answer is that 'No,' there is no way to copyright your app idea. Copyright doesn't protect ideas (despite some incredible misinformation on the web). For example, if you have an idea for an app that identifies poisonous mushrooms or makes gastrointestinal sound effects, anybody can use a similar idea as long as they don't copy the way you expressed your app. That's why success in the App Store is often based on getting the best version of something out quickly, and then popularizing it so that it turns up highest in App Store search results.
Paranoia strikes deep. If you're paranoid about the theft of an idea, you can ask the company to sign an NDA. For that to work, you need to be able to prove that the idea is a secret -- that is, it's not something commonly known in the App trade -- and that you've been treating it with secrecy. You can get free sample NDAs and explanations at our special website we set up for that purpose. 
Hiring someone. When you hire a company, you should also make sure that they assign all copyright to you. If you're concerned about ripoffs, or just want to be extra-prudent, file a copyright application once the app is completed. We should also mention that some ideas (provided that they're not abstract) can be patented, which would likely be a waste of money and effort since it would take almost two years to get the patent and the shelf-life of your app would likely be over. Finally, although we can't guarantee it, in most cases a legitimate app developer is unlikely to steal an idea because it would be very bad PR for the developer's business.