Copyrighting Your App

On July 11, 2008, two apps launched at Apple’s new App Store. One was iBeer by Hottrix, a small app development company; the app used a clever accelerometer-powered feature to make a virtual glass of beer empty as you tilted your iPhone. The other was iPint by Coors, an app that…well, did exactly the same thing. The main difference was that iBeer cost $3 and iPint was free. Hottrix believed that it had been ripped off—it claimed that Coors had seen a video about iBeer in 2007 (a year before the App Store opened), and that Coors developed iPint only after Hottrix rejected Coors’ 2007 request to license iBeer. The two companies negotiated but couldn’t work out a deal. Hottrix complained to Apple, which removed iPint from the App Store. As a result, iBeer quickly became one of the bestselling paid apps. Hottrix then sued Coors for copyright infringement.

Can a company copyright the idea of a tilting beer glass? Nope: Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, methods, or processes. But it does protect artwork, software code, text, and other similar content. If Coors’s developers had created a substantially similar app—and Hottrix’s attorneys maintained that they did—then the small app developer may have had a solid claim against the beer behemoth. Although the case has dropped out of the news—perhaps because of a settlement—one thing is clear: Hottrix’s copyright claim seems to have been enough to convince Apple to remove the Coors app from its App Store.

So how can ...

Get Protecting Your Mobile App IP: The Mini Missing Manual now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.