How can we help?


How to protect copyright on your mobile app

Android users can choose between 2.8 million apps and Apple’s App Store remained the second-largest app store with 2.2 million available mobile apps ( This is a vast market, and, whilst many, many apps make little or no money for their developers, the odd one may just be gold dust.

So how best to protect your creation, if you think you have just come up with the next TinderTM or Candy CrushTM?

Can I use a patent to protect my mobile app? 

When we first meet developers, we often hear the word “patent” mentioned. A patent, once obtained, provides 20 years of protection in the UK, so it is worth some consideration at least. For something to be capable of patent protection, it has to be new, contain an inventive step and, essentially, be capable of technical or industrial application.

However, the Patents Act 1977 states that a patent will not be granted for “a program for a computer” to the extent that the patent relates to the program “as such”. What this means is that it will be trickier to get patent protection for an app’s underlying software (though, in practice, patent claims for software have sometimes been accepted by the UK and EU patent authorities).

It may be that the overall functionality of the app meets the criteria for patent protection, but it should also be remembered that a patent application may be a costly and expensive process, which is not necessarily justifiable when the new app is still an unknown quantity in terms of future commercial success.

Can I use copyright to protect my mobile app?  

Given the position on patents, the best route for protection of an app is likely to be copyright. Provided there is a sufficient degree of originality (and the requirement for originality is not that stringent), copyright can both protect the way in which the app presents to users – images, on-screen text, audio and so on – and the source code or, in its machine-readable form, object code in underlying software.

Copyright arises automatically in a work capable of copyright protection, and will generally last for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the “author” of the work dies. There is no statutory requirement for copyright owners to use a copyright notice (“© [name of copyright owner] [year of first publication]”) but it will provide both a warning to possible infringers and may be useful, from an evidential point of view, if there is a claim against a third party for infringement.

A patent, once obtained, provides 20 years of protection in the UK, so it is worth some consideration at least.

Registered trade mark protection

Following on from earlier mentions of TinderTM and Candy CrushTM , registered trade mark protection can often be an essential part of the overall intellectual property (IP) protection for an app. In these two cases, the name and distinctive branding, such as any logos and slogans, is fundamental to the goodwill and value created in the app, and, with any app, these features are all potentially capable of trade mark protection.

Finally, it is worth mentioning UK registered design rights. It may be possible to register certain elements of an app (if they are “new” and have individual character), such as get-up, graphic symbols and typographic typefaces, as registered designs. Registration gives an effective 25-year monopoly in the design.

The main point of all of this is that app developers must give proper thought at the outset about IP protection for their apps, to ensure that, if they achieve commercial success, all the time, resource and money involved in developing them and getting them to market isn’t wasted when someone else takes the idea.

For further information contact our Intellectual Property lawyers.

About this article

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

About this article

Read, listen and watch our latest insights

  • 28 February 2024
  • Commercial Real Estate

Hidden risks in serviced office agreements

This is usually a fully furnished and equipped office space that is managed by a facility management company and made available for short-term or long-term rentals to businesses, varying from one week to a year, or even longer.

  • 27 February 2024
  • Employment

Changing Attitudes to Menopause

We have set out some answers to the frequently asked questions that employers ask when considering how to support a menopausal employee.

  • 22 February 2024
  • Employment

Time to take the heat off menopausal women

On 22 February 2024, the EHRC released guidance and resources for employers designed to help employers understand their legal obligations in relation to supporting workers experiencing menopausal symptoms.

  • 22 February 2024
  • Employment

Talking Employment Law: What to do if you’re at risk of redundancy

In this podcast, Harry Berryman and Rebecca Dowle, members of the employment team, will talk through the steps that need to be taken for a redundancy to be fair and the range of criteria that can be used when determining which employees will be made redundant.

  • 21 February 2024
  • Immigration

FAQs Partner Visa UK

Discover the UK Spouse Visa: eligibility, finances, relationship criteria, and the latest updates in 2024 for a successful application.

  • 19 February 2024
  • Privacy and Data Protection

The role of Data Protection Officers in ensuring compliance

How many of us receive marketing calls for products and services we did not sign up for?