Protecting IP

Long story - shortened version: I want to protect some fourth coming applications from being ‘cloned’ and having our revenue depleted by bottom feeding scummy programmers (you know who you are).

Investigated patents and basically found there is no way I can afford to patent my software (nor do I want to wait 3~5 years for the patent to be approved before I sell the application), and then only if the products are successful will I be able to defend the patents.

Which leads me to wonder, is there anything else I should be looking into as a way of protecting my IP. Ideally I want something that I can take to Apple and say, hey these #$%& have ripped us off and I need you to remove their shit from the App Store?

I don’t feel like there is. Check out all the 1Password clones. And 1Password is wildly successful.

Or the flappy bird clones. The fullscreen featureless text editor clones. And the wallpaper client clones.
Then there’s text expander clones. And somewhere near 900 facebook menubar items that just display the mobile site.
.DAT readers, ffmpeg wrappers - then there’s also the stuff that doesn’t even belong in there like the Pages, Keynote, and Mail templates.
I don’t think Apple really cares…

The only thing I’ve noticed that slows down scummy programmers is apps with functionality that’s difficult to replicate easily. Pixelmator, Cinemagraph, something intense.

I guess that the problem, most of my apps take a long time for me develop, not because they’re complicated apps, but because I invest a lot of time into research and development (often completely ignore any competition). The big apps general take 18 months to crate, with often many prototypes, many refactored versions and much usage on our end.

One of the apps, I’m developing is on Prototype 4 right now, and we’re into month 7.

The concept and technology behind it isn’t difficult, but getting the usability the way I want it is… Which is easy for someone to copy, once they use the application :frowning:

Hello Sam,

I also think that it is difficult to protect software against copying. Patents are really cost intensive, have to be well written, and a lot of research has to be done before. Than you have to wait several years before the patent is filed and than you have to protect it. My last employer, a big world player does this, but with less success for software.

From my point of view, it is important, that you are the first with the things that you do, and when the software is ready your marketing sould already be running, so that the people are waiting for your software to spread the word around it in facebook, twitter, blogs … The first player in the market can make a lot of money from the beginning, before the copy cats get visible.

The other thing is to have a brand. You have a very good reputation here in the forum. If you have a likewise good reputation to your growing amount of customers you could sell your software without the App store. With a brand the people are looking directly for your software.

Where do the copy cats know if a software is a good target to be copied? Do they get the amount of sold apps from the App store?

[quote=111218:@Sam Rowlands]Long story - shortened version: I want to protect some fourth coming applications from being ‘cloned’ and having our revenue depleted by bottom feeding scummy programmers (you know who you are).

Investigated patents and basically found there is no way I can afford to patent my software (nor do I want to wait 3~5 years for the patent to be approved before I sell the application), and then only if the products are successful will I be able to defend the patents.

Which leads me to wonder, is there anything else I should be looking into as a way of protecting my IP. Ideally I want something that I can take to Apple and say, hey these #$%& have ripped us off and I need you to remove their shit from the App Store?[/quote]

Ages ago there was a big precedent with VP-Planner, a clone of the best seller spreadsheet Lotus 123.

Reality is that even if Lotus won against Paperback software, they did not go after Borland afterward, and MS never seem to have tried anything either.

As you pointed out above, it takes a long time to patent, and we all know the cost of litigation. In the case of Lotus 123 vs VP-Planner this did not prevent later Borland from creating “skins” for their spreadsheet which allowed it to have the same interface as 123 or Multiplan (MS).

The issue here is pretty much the same as counterfeited Louis Vuiton bags, Rolex watches and Dior glasses. Notwithstanding real protection of their brand and custom impounds, if it can be emulated, it is. And customers who don’t know any better will buy, creating the market as surely as cocaine drives Columbian drug cartels business.

My original business is fonts. In the US, for some bizarre reason lawmakers decided that fonts cannot be copyrighted. So anything goes. Since the 1990s there are software houses that customarily scan font output, vectorize it, and create new identical fonts. As the only thing I can claim is copyright of the actual binary, I have no way to prevent cloning of my intellectual property. Add to that the gazillion “free fonts” sites around and the picture becomes pretty grimm.

Just as your own software, designing a font from scratch requires quite a bit of work. I have the example of the Candy Cane font in mind. When I created it, it was unique. Christmas sales where booming. It took less than three month for cloners to reproduce it, and two years later if I sold 10 copies I was lucky. Today everybody knows that design and I sell one every blue moon. In many aspects, cloners to me are scum just like cyber squatters.

The only way to counter the phenomenon, I think, is to take it into account in the product life the product. In particular, I found out that starting priced too low never gave a chance to make enough profit to really take into account development expenses. Here comes the analogy with the game industry. The life span of a game is at most three months until piracy kills sales. So prices are set to try making as much profit as possible before the product dies. And new versions are planned from the start go.

That said, I do not think possible to reverse the heavy tendency for shorter and shorter software lifetime, would that be due to cloning, piracy, or simple customer attention span.

As for Apple taking action against cloners, well, the Flappy Birds clones do not seem to go away :frowning:

These guys do pretty much good work for software protection.
Wibu Systems

I am afraid there is little you can do to protect your application to be cloned. I have faced this problem with an exact clone of my app in the Apple Store. My advice is to focus your energies in making your App better, update regularly and offer best user experience.

Suing cost money, resources and stress that should be focused on improving, investigating and offering something your clone competitors would not expect. In the other hand, if you discover that your competitors are taking parts of your code or using part of your framework, is another story.

Adobe can’t do anything to prevent Pixelmator to make a Photoshop clone, and having worked as an Adobe Engineer I can assure you that have resources and money to push competitors.

Said that, I share your feeling about how difficult is to create an Application and discover, some weeks later, some has taken your ideas and sold an almost exact clone.

I don’t think there is a good solution… but here is a link to some videos that might at least explain some of your legal options:

[quote=111270:@Joost Rongen]These guys do pretty much good work for software protection.
Wibu Systems[/quote]
Thanks for the link and the information, I’ve had a quick read.

It really bites!

We’re seeing this over and over again, to the point where I don’t care about piracy or licenses anymore… It’s the clone army that is killing us.

Take Shine for example, it was a technical accomplishment to get it to where it is, yet within weeks there’s two clones. One was faking the light rays, while another was trying to reproduce light rays, but frankly it wasn’t as good as ours. We got great reviews and some really nice comments, but ultimately the product was lost on the consumer market (both competitors were only a couple of bucks). I love Shine and am very proud of what we accomplished, but as far as sales goes… It wasn’t worth the investment.

Which makes me very nervous about investing a large chunk of time into another product.

This is obviously where we are lacking, and something that we should certainly really look into. Maybe we can devise a solid inexpensive marketing plan that will help drown out the cloners?

Thanks, I’ll sit down and watch some of these.

From memory, the latest episode of the Developing Perspective podcast discusses this very subject.

A couple of bucks ? You are lucky they are not downright free. While I understand someone who puts up an app for free when it is a spin off from another, custom or scholar development, I strongly resent the way the actually destroy someone else business seemingly without any second thought. Even sometimes with a sense of righteousness.

In the fonts business I will never understand why some people insist on posting free font packages in the MAS or the Windows Store. They make a lot of efforts and package well their software, yet when you go to their site they do not seem to sell anything. Pure and simple sabotage. And these terrorists of the free practice design cloning on a very large scale.

That’s why I believe we should take lessons from the big companies, and learn how to price high software while it is exclusive. Or at least higher than $2.99 or so. When an app is indeed unique, it will sell at much higher price. Take advantage while cloners have not been active. For instance, when I released Check Printer for Mac there was a crummy app in the Mas with not much features at $2.99. In the PC world, there where equivalent products at $10.00 or so. I went for $19.99 and sales where strong for a couple months, because people where glad to find such an app with nice features and extreme precision. Then came the sharks and I had to lower the price. But if I had started lower, all the profit would have never happened.

The issue of investment remains, though, and I admit not having found any general policy. Software, contrary to brick and mortar, seldom reflect production cost, as to be frank I would not dare comparing the production of, say, a book, and an app in the MAS. The brunt of cost is R&D, the second item is packaging (design, translations, etc.). For most apps in the MAS that’s it. Advertisement will cost an arm, a leg and the shoes attached, so most of the time one has to rely on press communication which has no fixed per month cost.

Lately, I found myself developing simpler utilities instead of targeting big apps. Much quicker turnaround and nice markets. But that’s me, semi retired. If I had a bigger company to support, I do not know what I would do.

Our “Funtastic Photos” was duplicated with “Great Photos” and they made theirs FREE with advertising. When “Great Photos” shipped, our sales plummeted right down and have never recovered. Thankfully for Funtastic Photos is was a few years old, and so we had earned from it already, put pretty much answered the decision as to any future versions on this product.

While we have people begging for new features and I have designs for a newer version, it’s one of those applications that does take a long time to develop, thus increasing the risk of it being another loss.

I don’t understand why either, maybe they’re after recognition. I heard today that you need to decide if your goal is simply to build the best you can or to make money… Surely you can do both? Infact, shouldn’t the best app you can build, stand a better chance of making money?

Good lesson, we’re always consider a lower price point to gain as much momentum… Hence why “Backup To Go” is free right now.

We tried to produce small and nimble apps in the past, in general these haven’t sold very well. There have a been a couple of exceptions, “Fun Greetings” at $4.99 still earns more than our deluxe version at $12.99 (even though the deluxe version is much more powerful, but again it’s not a fair comparison, because there is no card software for $4.99, while there are quite a few at the higher price point).

Today I started to devise a stronger marketing plan (without the hefty cost of advertising) and we’ll see if that pays off, I’ve also tried to improve the social media aspect of our application and will continue to do so.

With all the information that has been shared, I’m hoping that I can formulate a more reliable business plan, otherwise I’m going to have to open a cafe here and teach the Taiwanese what a real breakfast is!

If you have enough fans, you could go for a subscription model, where people actually buy in advance to support the app development. Such model has been used successfully in book publishing. Give them the feeling they are part of the project, ask support for the cause…

Problem with cafe is that it takes way more overhead than software, and when you calculate the actual gross amount of sales, it usually comes as ridiculously low :wink:

I thought about it as I were before involved in gaming development and this kind of model worked quite well for that kind of apps. But I really don’t know if this can be applied to App Store, where I guess all of us are focusing our work selling apps to consumers.

I was not so much thinking about the App Store, at least not during the development phase. The idea would be to contact people who requested features and offer them to support development. Also, the new trend of social platforms that mutualize individuals investments to make a new project possible could be a venue for a particular project. When the software has been delivered to the initial sponsors, it can be made available to the general public through the App Store, but development will have been financed by public support.

Guy Kawasaki’s Rules For Revolutionaries (I think that is the right reference)
And he has a couple in there that are really worth taking to heart
Create Like a God

  1. Cogita Differenter (think different)
  2. Don’t Worry, Be Crappy
  3. Churn, Baby, Churn

Sounds like you have #1 down.
#2 - get it out first & fast. Don’t worry if its not absolutely perfect in every respect (he has additional clarification in hiis book about this)
#3 is key to knocking the cloners - improve it all the time & do it fast . Keep far ahead of them. They’ll be cloning V2 when V3 hits and cloning V3 when V5 hits.

And there are several more but these are definitely relevant.

Sadly low priced software falls into the commodity market place no matter how much effort it took to produce it. Maybe this is not the “pure” definition of commodity but close. I think the #2 & #3 rules mentioned by Norm probably makes sense if that is your market place. Hey maybe even clone the competition and beat them at their own game using rule #2.

I have created a couple of mobile games and they were short lived and generated less revenue than the actual out of pocket expenses for some custom graphics. Doing the next Angry Birds involves some luck beyond just the quality of software.

Being in a commodity market needs rules #2 & #3.

– or –

The other approach would be to find a niche where you can sell your customer service and understanding of a complex issue via quality software. “Marry” fewer customers and make them “love” you. Business To Business (B2B) has a better chance of not being a commodity rather than Business To Consumer. Help make THEIR business successful and they will be less likely to change and willing to pay more money if it helps them make money.

Each approach has it’s PRO and CON values and in the end maybe you make the same money for similar amount but different type of effort.

Welcome to the 21st Century and the new Internet based economy. A love/hate relationship. ;-))

I have discovered the fonts business by accident in the early nineties. At the beginning I created foreign language fonts. That was before Windows and Mac supported Unicode. It was niche, and I got both consumers and businesses as customers. The biggest business being Ikea when they needed to enter Eastern European and Russian market with a font based on the Futura design with both these scripts and their usual Swedish characters for product names. When Unicode support came I lost that niche.

Then customers came to me for cursive fonts and again, I solved technical issues that usual systems did not. Today advanced scripts largely compensate my advance, though I have kept a good reputation.

I also designed a few custom fonts for the movie and television industry.

The constant is that when a market starts needs are great for working innovative products. After a while, though, big companies come up with solutions built into their system, or applications that cover the need. So one has to find yet another new niche.

I think you’re looking for a copyright moreso than a patent. You can’t patent ideas (only processes). You can however copyright ideas (that are not abstract). Such as Xojo has pending (or processed) patents on how software is built etc. But the Xojo “language” itself is abstract (conceptual based) and could be implemented by another should they choose. If there is a transmission of data, you can make a custom seemingly abstract (strongly encrypted and making not much sense unless really studied) protocol that is nearly (but never) impossible to crack, and the protocol could be patentable. Even then, patents are only upheld for the jurisdictions for which they are filed. Copyrights however can cross international borders. Even then, can be surpassed. One example is “Huckleberry Fin,” by Mark Twain. The publisher caught wind that it had been translated and republished by another foreign company. Courts found that to be acceptable since both literary works were completely different (even though only translated) (some international laws were added after that case). Protecting software is difficult. But as has been said, first to market usually succeeds.

Yep even a niche market will evaporate if it gets popular enough for the “big boys” to start playing and “throwing around money”.

Probably a copyright is the correct approach but even if you get copied you must pursue legal action that will eat all of the profit unless you can win the law suit and get awarded costs in addition to loss of sales damages. If they make the app just enough different you might not be able to prove damages anyway.

So … no easy answers … but this stuff is still fun most of the time. ;-))

Who was it anyway that told me computers would be a good field to get into???