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How to protect software code: 4 proven ways


Kirill Karahainko




Jul 15, 2020

Once upon a time, every stunning app you like to use began with an idea. A great idea is already half the success but only the first step on your way to startup development.

Just imagine — 100 million entrepreneurs launch their startups every year, and even more, people will never catch somebody’s promising idea. That is why the only way to feel calm about your offspring is to protect it legally. 

In this article, we are going to tell you how to protect software code to be completely sure that no one will be able to pocket your intellectual property. 

How to protect software code: you should know about these legal tactics

So, you are free to think about anything you want but at the moment, you are going to create something or even share your vision with somebody, and the need of startup protection appears.

You can protect your app idea and code from copying and disclosing using the next tactics: 

  1. Patent.
  2. Copyright.
  3. Trademark.
  4. NDA.

Let’s focus on each of the ways in more detail. 

1. How to patent an app idea

The best thing about patents is that it is not only protecting your ideas and developments. Having a patent for your invention also means that other companies are prohibited to do the same by full or partial copying of your developments during the next 20 years (according to US laws). 

This means that you will have a complete monopoly on your invention for the next 20 years and may legally prosecute anyone who tries to steal your idea.

However, there are some tricks to consider.

Firstly, if you want to patent your application, you need to clearly understand which parts of it are patentable. As we have already said, there are four ways to protect your application, and a patent is just one of them.

A patent protects your idea and the way it works. In this case, your application is legally understood as a useful invention that performs a specific function. Do not confuse the way your app works with its code because the code in this case does not matter. A patent protects the way this code makes your app perform its functions.

Secondly, you need to research the modern app market before pursuing your patent app idea. The most commonplace reason is that your idea may already be implemented by someone. The non-obvious reason is that there is a special type of fraud — patent trolling. Someone is patenting a certain idea and is waiting for the young startupper to implement the same thing without a patent. Tons of lawsuits, proceedings, and compensations can be a result.

Thirdly, you need to choose between provisional and non-provisional patents. A non-provisional patent is suitable if you are sure that there will be no changes in the way your app works. Choose a provisional patent if some adjustments are still possible. 

In any case, if your idea has not really been implemented before, patenting an application is a good way to protect it from competitors.

2. How to copyright an app 

Copyrighting your app is essential if there are other people working on it — for example, freelancers you’ve hired remotely. In this case, the first intellectual property right belongs to them but you are going to buy this right according to your contract. (Surely, you should sign it with all your team members, including remote ones, and directly state that the copyright to your app belongs to you exclusively). 

By the way, you should know that, according to the law, your app is a literary work — or the result of your (or others) intellectual effort. So, it is logical to assume that copywriting is the main way to protect source code if it is created by somebody else and paid by you. 

According to the Copywriting Act, “ Copyright protection is not available for ideas, program logic, algorithms, systems, methods, concepts, or layouts .”

How, then, do you protect source code if it is written personally by you? It is not difficult and expensive — all you need to do is apply for copyright registration and send your work to the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington D.C. In case you operate outside the United States, you need to address the intellectual property law firm in your country to register the copyrights.

By the way, do the same copyright process if your code was created by somebody but owned by you — there is no difference. 

3. How to protect your product name with a trademark

It is already clear how to patent an app idea and copyright your invention, so let’s discuss how to protect your branded name. The protection of your name is a guarantee that nobody will be able to reuse it and get benefits due to the popularity of your app. 

By the way, if you open the App Store and enter any search phrase, you will notice that a lot of apps are very similar to each other — in terms of design and name choices as well. 

However, your app should be outstanding, that is why you should protect its name with the help of a trademark. What is more, having a unique and protected name will contribute to your brand recognition. 

You trademark in three steps.

  1. Come up with a stunning name for your app.
  2. Get in touch with a trademark attorney.
  3. Submit your trademark application to the USPTO (and wait for 8 months on average). 

4. How to protect software code by NDA

An NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement is the best way to protect your app if you are going to outsource its development. In a nutshell, this is a legal contract according to which your vendor (and his employees) promise not to reveal any information transferred to them before and during the development process. 

In the case of offshore outsourcing, this is the core document that inspires trust for both parties. Since all the development and designing processes are going to be deployed remotely, you should be sure that there is a legal contract protecting your startup. NDA does it for you.

Little hint! Reliable development vendors always accept the offers of their potential customers to sign an NDA — even before the first consultation. So, you should never hesitate but insist on its signing. 

And here is one more beautiful thing about a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Even though there are a lot of NDA templates, this document can be fully customizable. So, you may decide what data should be confidential in your case. The NDA is one more way of how to protect source code, your ideas, your designs, prototypes, names, research results, and marketing strategies. 


So, these were the main ways of how to protect software code, even if you currently barely have an idea for an app. However, be sure that Mentalstack is always near to help in all the stages of your startup development — from the first code line to finished product protection. You have all the reasons to feel safe with us so let’s get in touch right now!

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