Can Apple steal my iPhone app ideas and get away with it?

I received an interesting email today from a very astute reader who clearly understands how important it is to read licensing agreements.  The reader asked:

Am I reading Apple’s iPhone Developer agreement correctly? From my reading Apple reserves the right to copy any features or functionality in an App that someone (I for example) has developed without any compensation or restrictions.

Yes, dear reader, indeed it does.  With an important exception.  Section 9 states:

9. Apple Independent Development. Nothing in this Agreement will impair Apple’s right to develop, acquire, license, market, promote or distribute products, software or technologies that perform the same or similar functions as, or otherwise compete with, any other products, software or technologies that you may develop, produce, market, or distribute. In the absence of a separate written agreement to the contrary, Apple will be free to use any information, suggestions or recommendations you provide to Apple pursuant to this Agreement for any purpose, subject to any applicable patents or copyrights.

This clause discloses Apple’s sinister plans to steal your hard app work and make it their own.  With one exception, namely unless you have obtained a patent or copyright on your app.

Which begs the question, can you get a patent or copyright on your app or portions of it?  Good question.  Maybe one worth asking an apps lawyer… 😉

About 

Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.

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Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.

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6 Comments

  1. Milind Lele said:

    Joel:

    Thanks for publicizing this! I think it is essential that the developer community know about what economists call “asymmetrical relationships” and I call “David vs. Goliath – bad ending”.

    MML

  2. bert said:

    Ok… I’ll bite. Is there not an automatic copyright on anything I produce, such as source code and the app from which it is derived? If so, why should I be concerned?

    • Joel Rothman said:

      It is true that the author of the source code owns the copyright (unless it is a work for hire, or there is a written assignment). But that will not stop Apple from “stealing” from you by reverse engineering the functionality and reproducing it in non-infringing code. Just one example of many possible you could come up with.

  3. Pingback: Who Is More “Closed and Proprietary?” Adobe or Apple? « OneZeroThrice

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