Apps: do we regard them as a protected species?

Here's a request for assistance on a topic that has not received much coverage to date on this weblog, and it comes from a real live Charly who is definitely not a right or proper Charlie:
"My name is Charly Plasman and I am a Bachelor of Law student from the Netherlands. For my internship at Novagraaf Nederland B.V. I will be researching the relationship between mobile applications ('apps') and intellectual property in Europe.The main question of the research will be
‘Are the intellectual property rights regarding the development and use of apps taken into account enough?'.
The aim of this research will be to gain more insight in the market for apps, and the consequences that the latest developments and use of apps have in the field of intellectual property.  
Although I have been able to find some information about this subject, there is not a lot literature available. I was wondering if you might be willing to point out some articles or blogs, if there are any, out this subject".
This Kat remains to be convinced that apps deserve to be treated separately from any other category of IP-protectable work, whether the standards by which protection is assessed are those of the European Union, the United States or anywhere else.  He is also sceptical as to whether the taking into account of IP regarding the development and use of apps will provide any insight into the market for them -- but he is willing to be persuaded to the contrary if the arguments and/or evidence are strong enough.

If any readers have identified relevant literature or -- as is quite likely -- are in the middle of writing it, their information, suggested reading and general comments are very much welcome.  Please post your comments below, or email them to the IPKat here with the subject line "Apps".

Charley's Aunt here and here
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here
Apps: do we regard them as a protected species? Apps: do we regard them as a protected species? Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, February 19, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. The most notable feature that's peculiar to apps is the "app store".

    This raises a few IP issues regarding the territory in which any infringement takes place, as well as the identities of potential joint infringers.

    This topic has been covered quite extensively in the popular on-line press, especially when an app store and/or developer has hastily withdrawn a popular app from sale on receiving infringement warnings.

    Beyond this, I can't see that apps raise many IP issues that aren't common to all software products.

  2. Question: why should apps be treated differently from ordinary software - which is what they are, nothing more, nothing less - when software is treated like literature, which it clearly is not (at least I have never heard of a computer controlled and driven by a Shakespearean sonnet).

  3. I can't refer to any particularly useful articles I've seen, but what's clear here in the UK is that companies are thinking about patent protection for apps and we see frequent queries about this. I think in the past patent protection would not have been thought about for a business method here, but once people develop an app to assist with it, they start to imagine patent protection might be available. Hat's off to my colleagues in this sector who seem to be able to draft claims in a way that can make any app activity sound technical. What is clear is that the new science of apps is going to bring a lot of joy to the lives of many Patent Office Examiners.

  4. Interesting relevant article:

  5. Why would it be appropriate to consider any different approach to IP protection for “apps” than for any other computer application? I can see no apparent reason. The very question makes one apprehensive. However, the student is to be applauded for approaching the IPKat – the very appealing apotheosis of deserving IP approbation.

  6. And of course the need to review the US patent landscape due to territory...

  7. While I would agree that an app is just software and would not normally qualify for any special IP measures, what is different about a lot of apps is that they seek to use third party data as part of their functionality. For example, just today I saw a query on a forum from a developer who was writing a karaoke app and wanted to know how to obtain a licence to use the tracks. When pointed to PRSforMusic's Karaoke licence,he replied that his boss didn't want to pay that much and was there any other way of achieving his aim. At least we should be thankful he knew he needed a licence.

  8. The February 2013 edition of Intellectual Property Magazine had a special feature on apps.

  9. The features of apps that are relevant to IP are that the ideas behind games are not protected by copyright, and the game mechanics are often not wholly captured by the design of the graphics, meaning that it is particularly easy to rip-off successful apps.

    Also taking into account that these apps often have a short window of peak popularity, it is possible for a fly-by-night organisation to put together a knocl-off version quickly; or, for that matter, release a better-produced version of a amateurish but promising effort.

    The student might like to start with this web link:

    and compare it to the history of the game Narbacular Drop.


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