What is Mobile App Infringement?
Learn more about the increase in brand abuse via mobile apps and how to defend against counterfeiters and bad actors
Smartphone applications are a popular channel for intellectual property theft. It is projected that by 2025, global expenditure in mobile app stores will reach almost $270 billion. It is therefore important for brands that have a mobile app presence to maintain their competitive advantage and keep their reputation intact by protecting their software or service from being copied or reproduced by a bad actor.
How Vulnerable Are You?
From mobile apps to social media to online marketplaces, there is no digital channel safe from the threat of brand infringement. Gauge the level of your vulnerability by downloading our comprehensive brand protection checklist.
What are third-party mobile apps?
A third-party app is an application created by a developer that is not the manufacturer of the device on which the app runs. For example, the Facebook mobile app is a third-party application developed by Facebook for Android and iOS phones. At the same time, the Camera app that is found pre-installed in devices by the device manufacturer is often developed by the manufacturer. These are called first-party apps.
There are mainly three ways to access/install a third-party application on any mobile device:
- Apps that are officially created for and available on each app store. For e.g. the Facebook app for Android, iOS and other devices available in their respective stores. These apps meet the specific criteria for each app store and are approved by the respective developers of the service.
- Apps that can be downloaded from unofficial third-party websites. There are potential risks (for the user) involved in downloading an app from outside a device manufacturer’s authorized app store. Installing such apps can even void device warranty status in certain casess. Users, hence, are also apprehensive of going outside their manufacturer’s official app store to download an application.
- Apps that connect to or run within other apps. Examples are some games that run within the Facebook page/environment and connects to the Facebook service/app rather than the device itself.
How Does Brand Abuse Occur Through Mobile Apps?
According to a Statista report, as of the first quarter of 2021, there were 3.48 million apps available in the Google Play Store, and roughly 2.22 million available on the Apple App store.
Inauthentic apps are the fastest-growing type of digital fraud, with 29% of apps available in stores attributed to being fake. Fake mobile apps are created for purposes ranging from serving fake ads and siphoning off users’ personal and financial information to using an app’s look and feel to capture prospective audience. There’s even a subset of these apps that are created by fans to add a layer of digital interaction with your brands, like stickers and filters. While these infringing apps aren’t malicious, they divert traffic from your legitimate app and cause confusion to your customer base.
How to protect your app from infringement?
Although app stores recognize the complicated nature of online infringement, they may not get involved in infringement disputes. However, if you possess a valid trademark registration for your app, you may be eligible to get an infringing application or website taken down from any of these services. For example, you can submit a complaint on the Google Play store to get an infringing app off the Google Play store. Other mobile app stores have similar policies.
Get a Copyright for your mobile application code because you cannot sue for copyright infringement if your work is not registered.
Trademark or Register your app name with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
Check the app store policies.
Transfer the ownership of the code to you/your company.
Patent your app if possible.
How do you proactively defend yourself against bad actors infringing on your mobile app IP?
Unless you protect your own app and brand, there is no guaranteed safety in any of the app stores. App-stores may not always check for copyright infringements when apps get uploaded. There is no way to monitor if someone cloned your app and uploaded it to these online stores. It would only be taken down if someone flags it as fraudulent. This means that until then, the bad actor can profit from the recognition that you developed with your original app. By preparing for such an event by securing strong IP rights for your app and by relying on digital brand protection systems you can ensure the safety of your app and more importantly, your user base. Read more in our article, “The Rise of Systemic Abuse Networks.”
What is Brand Protection Technology?
Brand protection technology exists to help detect the many sources of fraud across the modern digital ecosystem and remove/mitigate that abuse. There are various ways brand protection technology detects and mitigates abuse, including through artificial intelligence and managed services. Here are a few examples:
Advanced machine learning capabilities detect digital images online (logo, product images, etc.) to accelerate the review, triage and prioritization of enforcement efforts.
.Undercover purchase and analysis of physical and digital goods helps definitively determine the authenticity of a good or service and is a cost-effective alternative to private investigations.
In-platform repository and workflows can be tailored to any specific case management requirements to reduce time, effort and headaches.
Experienced brand protection teams become immediate extensions to any legal and brand protection department.
Defending Brands—New Realities, New Partnerships
As our digital world continues to evolve, emerging channels and technologies continuously present new opportunities for brands to engage with their customers. While this evolution enables businesses to grow, it also poses challenges. As technologies innovate, so do bad actors on the web who conspire to harm your brand through piracy, intellectual property infringement, and product counterfeits.