Don’t share your idea with an app team! 

Imagine that you’ve decided to buy a car. Since this is a very important decision, you prefer to keep it a secret. You’ve spent a while shortlisting the auto dealers in your region. Finally, this very special day has come. You fuss over the Zoot Suit, put on Hublot Black Caviar Bang, take a taxi and go to the top auto dealer showing all of your white teeth and shining brightly.

The very consistent question of the salesperson after having seen your highly polished boots would be: “Which car would you like to buy”? But shhh… you can’t say… this is a secret. How did that salesman only dare?! These sellers would only sell.

Trying to help, the salesperson begins to ask guidance questions. At long last, you’ve come here for a reason. “It seems like you would love to purchase a car and I’d be pleased to help you choose one” – the salesperson keeps his hopes up to be useful. Yeaaah, you’d love to have one, but this is a secret which you can’t share. How can you? No deal, no car, just two of you feeling puzzled.

Sometimes I feel the same way when I’m told that they would like to build an app, but the idea is not a subject to disclose. So let’s talk about why app developers want to steal your project concept, the best way to protect software idea and software source code.


Why do they want to steal your idea?

To some extent, I understand your concern. Obviously, you have diligently conducted a market and competitor analysis, discovered a niche, spent the time to specify every single detail of the project, and you are so much eager to make it work. As almost every Product Owner, you are afraid about your idea not be stolen by a development agency.

Before we sort out how to protect an app idea, let’s figure out why an app development team doesn’t want to steal it. 

Below are the top 5 reasons why. Pulling no punches.

  1. It’s all about their reputation

Every company values its reputation, they spend money on marketing and making their brand recognizable, they do their best to receive positive feedback on their work, and look more winning in their client’s eyes. It’s a heavy work to build a proper reputation, cause trust and willingness to work with them.

Be your idea stolen and should you shout out loud, tons of their efforts would be destroyed. Do you really think that after being in existence for smth like ages and making their living on building mobile and web apps, they would steal your business idea, dismiss the team and start it all over from scratch?

  1.  It’s not their business

They make money on developing projects. On the one hand, this process includes building a strong career brand, searching for best talents on the market, hiring and training staff, etc.

On the other hand, this is a meticulous work of marketing managers, developers who put their marketing strategies into life in order to attract clients. They simply have a different business model which is unlikely to be changed with the appearance of your idea.  

  1. Nothing personal but…

The raw truth is that because of processing dozens of app inquiries every day and knowing oats of the market, they might be of a different opinion about your project concept. They might think that the idea needs improvement, that the market is overwhelmed with similar ones, or simply dislike it. 

  1. They can do it better

Someone who is smart enough to steal your project idea may think that he is smart enough to program it in a better way. Ask any developer to review someone else’s code and chances are they say the code is spaghetti. I rarely met a programmer who thought that the code created by someone else was better than his own. So most likely they won’t bother stealing the software idea or code of your product.

  1. Is your app idea really novel?

There are just a few things in any project which may be truly innovative. No matter how novel your idea is, chances are someone else has already put it in other projects. Statista states that back in 2018 there were 2.1 mln apps available at Google Play and 2 mln apps available for download at Apple App Store. No matter how hard you try to invest in the development of a mind-explosive project, most likely it would contain the features already implemented in this or that app.


How to protect an app idea?

Even though the app market is overwhelmed, there is still a room for bright ideas. If you came up with a really innovative concept and have concerns as for the leak of information while dealing with an app team, keep on reading as we are going to talk about top 8 ways how to protect an app idea. 

The intellectual property of your product can be protected by means of the intellectual property rights (IPR) made up by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). There are 3 main forms of protection which depend on the type of IP: patents, trademarks, copyrights. Along with that, there are some additional measures which you could implement. Let’s review them all.

  • Patent  

If your project is really innovational and unique, patenting will help to protect your app idea. Before doing this, consult with an experienced IP lawyer who would advise whether or not the battle is worth the blood. The patenting process is pretty time-consuming and may take several years. Besides, this is a costly affair and cost of the patent may exceed the entire development budget. At the same time, this is a proven way how to protect an app idea against the development of any similar products.

The federal agency that protects your ideas and inventions in the USA is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are 2 types of patents you could apply for: provisional and non-provisional.

A provisional patent is a temporary one which lasts for 1 year and allows you to protect your idea while applying for a permanent one, finishing your invention, or conducting any other activities related to the product. Filing a provisional patent application is a pretty fast task as it has just a few formalities.

That’s more than I can say for a non-provisional patent which has many parts, a lot of rules to follow. Should you break at least one rule, all of your hard work goes in vain.

Provisional and non-provisional patents are different measures to protect your product. When used together, you could enhance your chances.

If you are based in a EU country, patenting would be a somewhat different process. There are national and European types of patents. If you do business in one European country, you could apply for a national patent at a patent office in a certain EU country. If you do business in more than one EU countries, you could apply for a European patent at the European Patent Office (EPO). The latter one should be validated by the national patent office in each country where protection is required. Besides, it should meet the laws of each target country.

  • Trademark

Trademark allows protecting your product against being sold under the same name by other businesses. The application is a pretty simple process and does not require significant efforts.

If you are located in the USA, you should apply to The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

If you are based in EU, you can register your trademark at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). More information can be found at the European Union website.

  • Copyright

Copyright or the author’s right is the measure to control the production, distribution, recording, broadcasting, public performance of your work. Copyright guarantees the ownership of your software idea, product, computer program, database, whatsoever.

You can’t copyright an abstract idea as it should be substantial. In the case of software, you could copyright the app UX/UI design, the entire source code or its separate modules. That would mean that no one else would be allowed to create an exact copy of your app design or source code.

The application process and duration of copyright depending on the target country’s law. For instance, in the USA copyright protection lasts for the life of the author and at least 70 years after.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)

Signing an NDA is one of the most common ways how to protect an app idea and avoid an IP infringement. NDA is basically a promise of not sharing any information related to your project given by those who take a direct part in its discussion.

If you sign the agreement with an app development agency, make sure that the provision spreads to all of its contractors. Make sure you limit the number of people involved in the process. In case you notice a leak of information, you may claim a breach of the agreement and bring the question to court.

  • App team

Make sure you work with a decent company that has a reputation on the market. It’s easy to check what they say about the company by reading a review on B2B listing platforms such as GoodFirms, Clutch, TheyMakeApps, etc. Move beyond and make your own research: check not only the company’s previous clients, but also install and review the projects they’ve previously created, research key individuals working for the company on social media, study their behavior to understand what sort of people they are.  

Portrait of the worst app development team ever
  • Market

It’s not a big deal to program an app. The most challenging part is to create a truly novel project concept, attract users, and make it to the top of the app store. Don’t spend eternity on polishing each pixel of the app design. Rather try to get the first version of the product to the market fast, figure out what they say, and keep polishing it in the meantime.

  • Court

If it becomes an issue of monetary loss, maybe it’s not immune to courts which can be your protection.

  • Innovation

Instagram has no fear of competitors obviously because in the court of nature they’ve provided a remarkable solution. It was not in one release that they integrated stories and added various face filters to the app. They compete through innovation, went lean, and served the features in pieces. If you have a really great idea, don’t be afraid that someone might steal it. Rather think how to add even more value to the users and sell it well.

How to protect source code?

  • Prevent reverse engineering

All software can be reverse engineered. Put a term in your agreement with the development agency that prohibits reverse-engineering.

  • Don’t give access to source code to anybody

Limit access to the source code and don’t give it to anybody.

  • Choose the right code repository

Choose the right hosting service for source code and development projects. GitHub and BitBucket are the most popular ones.

  • Set code repository to private and limit access to it

Spare no expense on purchasing private code repositories as they are more secure and don’t use public ones. If your project is in the development process right now, check whether its code repository is public or private. Here are instructions on how to make a public one private:

  1. on GitHub
  2. on Bitbucket
  • Use a secure connection to the code repository

Use only protected connections to the code repository, for instance, “SSH” which ciphers all the traffic, including passwords.  


When should you ask for source code of your app?

Even though there is no 100% way to protect your software idea, there are a lot of measures to strengthen hand and make you feel secure. You should not be afraid of sharing it with an app development team. Rather make proper due diligence of the software development company before going too deep into the details.

In no case should you be that man from the story above who wanted to buy a car, but that was a secret, so he went back home with nothing. You should not enter a kitchen if you fear to get into the stew.

Look after my new articles as I’m gonna tell you how to choose the right development team in Ukraine. If you find this article useful, I’ll appreciate if you share it.

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