Mobile App Development: Key Legal Considerations

Mobile App Development: Key Legal Considerations

With widespread adoption of internet-connected mobile devices, including smartphones and tablet computers, software/mobile applications (apps) are increasingly a preferred medium for accessing content and interacting online. The unique capabilities of mobile technology provide customer-facing businesses with new ways of reaching existing and new customers. Apps also provide new ways for accessing, processing and transmitting data that facilitate internal operations. 

These capabilities also raise legal considerations, including those relating to:

  • End-user privacy.
  • Intellectual property (IP) rights.
  • Advertising and promotions.
  • App terms of development and use

To protect their rights and minimize risks of liability from violating others’ rights, companies should consider and address legal issues from the beginning and throughout mobile app development. Contracts with the developer should be clear on the scope and timelines too and terms and conditions for customers clear and transparent on in app purchase and free trials.

Privacy is a key legal consideration when developing a mobile app. To ensure compliance and minimize the risk of liability and reputational harm resulting from privacy breaches, companies should: 

  • Consider privacy from the beginning of the mobile app development process.
  • Have a mobile app privacy policy that accurately and completely discloses its information practices, including its collection, use, disclosure, maintenance and protection of personal information.

In developing its privacy practices and disclosures, companies should take into account:

  • Specific legal requirements that may apply based on the type of information being collected, including any specific requirements for regulated industries or sensitive information.
  • Industry guidance and best practices.

When developing and distributing a mobile app, a company must consider and address both protecting its own IP rights and minimizing its risk of infringing the IP rights of others. 

Developing a mobile app generally gives rise to new IP rights including software, graphics, music, text, databases and branding. In particular:

  • The app, including its original software code and content, may qualify for copyright protection.
  • Certain aspects of the app, including its source code, may be protectable as trade secrets
  • A process or method embodied in an app may be patentable.
  • The app’s name may qualify for trademark protection. At the beginning of and throughout the development process, the company should take appropriate measures to define, secure and protect its IP rights, including:
  • Entering into work-made-for-hire and IP rights assignment agreements with its employees and outside contractors involved in developing the app.

Developing a mobile app often involves use of IP owned by others. Therefore, the company should:

  • Conduct appropriate rights clearance to evaluate whether it needs a license for its proposed uses.
  • Ensure it secures all necessary rights.

Where the company has already licensed content for other uses, it should not assume its existing agreements cover use in or delivery through the app. For example, an existing agreement may be limited by:

  • Territory.
  • Distribution platform or media.
  • Device type.

Mobile apps generally raise the same advertising law considerations as websites, e-mail and other online and networked communications.

The company also must consider relevant advertising and promotion laws in connection with:

  • Serving third-party advertising through or in connection with the app.
  • Conducting or promoting contests or sweepstakes in or through the app. In addition, the company should evaluate whether the app itself may be considered advertising. If so, the app’s content must comply with all relevant advertising and promotion laws.

Thus as you can see app use for business can be complex. Happy to help you navigate them like we have helped our other clients with apps. Please contact us via WhatsApp on 07583452230 or email to get advise from our media lawyer. Visit our website for further information on how we can help and to like and share our useful social media updates. Subscribe to our YouTube and podcast updates too.

Reina D'costa

Dual qualified, experienced, practical and proactive solicitor. Founder of Bizlaw UK, a new model legal service consultancy.

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