What Are Your iOS Copyrights?

Sometime over the summer -- no one is sure exactly when -- Apple quietly launched a portal where developers and other entities can alert the company about possible app copyright infringements. “Once you have identified the app and described the alleged infringement on the following pages, we will respond via email with a reference number and will put you in direct contact with the provider of the disputed app,” says the portal’s main page.

How does the dispute-resolution process work? It’s tough to say, partly because it’s new and thus largely untested -- and partly because Apple didn’t respond to interview requests. But some developers and attorneys say it could be useful.

“The portal definitely makes it more efficient to communicate with the right point of contact at Apple,” says Derek Ting, Enflick co-founder. “Before, it was unclear what the process was to handle these issues. However, since I never had to deal with infringement issues through Apple, I can't comment on how much more effective the new portal is. The best way to settle any dispute is to contact the infringing developer directly before going through Apple and lawyers. Often issues can be settled directly without involvement of Apple or any other party.”

Apple’s new process doesn’t change one thing: the need for developers to periodically check what else is available in their target markets. That’s also an opportunity to see if rival apps have added features that give them a competitive advantage.

“In most circumstances, Apple’s portal should prove to be a relatively quick and cost-effective way to have infringing content removed from the App Store,” says Robert McHale, an attorney and author of “A Practical Legal Guide to iPhone Application Development.”

“As before, the onus largely remains on copyright owners to police the App Store for potentially infringing apps,” McHale continues. "While presumably not a common occurrence, in cases of clear IP violations triggering potentially high monetary damages or brand erosion, IP-right owners should consider seeking immediate injunctive relief to remove any IP-violative apps.”

Digital Copyright Issues on the Rise?

How common is IP infringement in the mobile app world? There doesn’t appear to be any analyst research quantifying it, but it’s safe to say that, at least in iOS, it’s reached the point that Apple felt it was worth creating a framework to deal with it.

Governments are also starting to crack down on mobile application copyright issues. In August, the U.S. Department of Justice worked with its Dutch and French counterparts to seize three domains -- applanet.net, appbucket.net and snappzmarket.com -- on charges of distributing pirated Android apps.

“This is the first time website domains involving cell phone app marketplaces have been seized,” the DoJ said in a press release. “The seizures are the result of a comprehensive enforcement action taken to prevent the infringement of copyrighted mobile device apps.” The DoJ seizure shows that when app piracy does occur, it’s not unique to the iOS world.

Some developers say that so far, they haven’t seen much piracy or other forms of IP theft. “Infringement has not been a big problem for us, and I don't think it is generally a big problem in the mobile app ecosystem,” Ting says. “[But] infringement is something that will happen regardless of which platform you're on.”

How to Protect Your App Copyrights -- and Yourself

The good news is that developers have several options for minimizing the chances that their app IP will get ripped off.

“The best ways for developers to protect themselves from infringement is to keep improving their app so that it becomes increasingly more difficult for a copycat to replicate your product,” Ting says. “Patents will provide legal protection of IP, but they take a long time to file and are expensive to enforce. It probably won't make sense for most developers out there.”

It also helps to understand how the copyright process works. For example, some developers mistakenly believe that code signing is a form of copyrighting.

“Code signing and copyright registration serve very different purposes,” McHale says. “The former serves to confirm the author of the software and to guarantee that the code has not been altered/corrupted. It does not confirm that the software itself is original or duplicative of another’s copyrighted material. 

“Although copyright protection subsists immediately upon writing the code, developers should also consider federally registering their copyrights to achieve greater protections, including a presumption of validity of the copyright and recovery of attorney’s fees and statutory damages in the case of infringement.”

It’s also a good idea to ensure that your app isn’t the one doing the infringing. “Developers or the companies that they are hired by should ensure that all code is the original product of the developer,” McHale says. “If not, express licenses should be obtained, and the terms of the license should be strictly honored. Developers should also obtain all necessary licenses for any images or sound created by others that they incorporate into their app.

Getting Enterprise Projects

Many large enterprises have the resources to develop apps in house but prefer to outsource that task. Meanwhile, many smaller businesses don't have the budget or skills for app development. Either way, there's a large and growing market for enterprise-specific apps.

Medtronic is just one example. For years, the company built Palm and Windows Mobile apps entirely in house.

“Apps at the time were easier and a little more streamlined because there was only one dominant platform: first Palm and then Windows Mobile,” says Jim Freeland, enterprise mobility IT. “So the whole equation of ‘insource or outsource?’ really didn’t start until iPhone and Android came out.”

Today, Medtronic has more than 150 apps for internal and external use. All but about 10 were developed by outside contractors. In May 2012, Medtronic created a certified mobile vendor program to provide consistency in the way that it works with developers.

“That allows them to work across our company with any of our business units because they understand our guidelines, policies and requirements,” Freeland says. “We’ve got consistent pricing in place for all of our businesses internally. They understand who to talk to when there are questions or issues. In the end, my team is trying to help them succeed with our mutual customer: the business internally.”

Many enterprises -- large and small -- don’t have that kind of framework. So one way that developers can maintain a good relationship with their clients is by helping them create a sustainable process.

“Big companies are at a loss for how to handle this,” Freeland says. “They don’t know how to handle the proliferation of their consumers: the businesses internally demanding these mobile apps get built. Vendors can help themselves by coaching corporate IT or marketing on how to work with them to have a more effective relationship.”

App Developers: Partner Up
Like any other type of B2B service, there are multiple options for getting in front of potential customers, including networking and responding to inquiries on sites such as LinkedIn’s iPhone, Android, iPad, Tablet & Mobile Application Development group, as well as traditional RFIs/RFPs.

“They need to know how to balance value with price and represent how they would partner with the prospect/customer such that the enterprise sees them as an extension of their own,” says Tony McGinty, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories’ senior manager for North America. “RFPs tend to be more solution-oriented, with much more at stake than an application development by itself; although if the application is complex, an enterprise may choose to take that route.”

Some enterprises turn to their mobile operator when they’re looking for developer references. Hence AT&T’s Foundry program, which fields app-development requests from enterprise customers and the operator’s own business units, then looks for developers with the skills to deliver those products. For each project request, AT&T picks several developers, which then go through a fast pitch process to determine which one gets the gig.

“We look for those two guys in a garage, as well as the larger shops,” says Mike Berry, director of operations for Foundry’s Plano, Texas, facility.

Developers can throw their hats in the ring at http://developer.att.com. “If and when we have a [project request] that meets their general description, one of our scouting teams will contact them,” Berry says. “It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get your foot in the door, but at least it is a door.”

One Foundry participant is OpenPeak, which provides the Toggle platform that AT&T offers to enterprise customers. “The Foundry process has been a huge success story for us,” says David Barclay, vice president of business development.

Developers can also get their foot in the door via systems integrators -- and not just large ones such as Accenture. Some enterprises say they prefer smaller, boutique integrators. “We’re trending toward those kinds of shops,” says Medtronic’s Freeland. “We feel like they can help us stay up with the current mobile standards faster than some of the larger shops.”

How to Stay in the Room
Enterprises farm out app development for a variety of reasons, but if there’s a common denominator, it’s a desire to avoid the cost, risk and hassle of doing that work internally. That’s worth remembering if you want to stay in the room after landing what could be a one-off project. Some tips:

  • Don’t be shy about showcasing what you can do. Don’t assume that your client believes you can do more than just what you’re currently providing. “Don’t rest on what you’ve delivered for them,” Freeland says. “Develop a video highlight reel of the types of apps you can build. Offer to come in and do a showcase where you demonstrate capabilities. Customers these days, when they’re looking for a mobile vendor to work with, it’s a very visual game.”
  • Show how you can protect clients from the uncertainty that comes with a rapidly evolving mobile world. For example, enterprises don’t want to add staff with Microsoft Surface skills until they’re convinced that the platform has legs. “If I’m a vendor, that’s how I’m selling my services: ‘Let my company insulate you from changes in the mobile world,’” Freeland says.
  • Be straight about who owns what. “Vendors need to understand the consequences of not providing source code or the entire project source code,” Freeland says. “If a vendor has developed some proprietary code, and that’s kind of their secret sauce that they want to leverage across multiple customers, make sure they’re very clear about what they plan to keep and what they plan to turn over. That’s huge right now -- huge.”

Photo: Corbis Images

How to Work with a Business Accelerator

Business accelerators are springing up around the country, providing seed money, advice, and the space to refine an idea.

Accelerators aim to help entrepreneurs quickly develop their concepts into marketable products. A 12-week time limit for participation in an accelerator program is fairly typical. That’s a departure from business incubators, which usually keep companies around for a longer period.

Accelerators now cover a broad swath of the U.S., including the major East Coast and West Coast technology centers. Examples include TechStars, which operates in Boston, Boulder, New York, Seattle, and San Antonio; Excelerate Labs, based in Chicago; and Kicklabs in San Francisco. 

Mobile app developers are among the many individuals and companies participating in accelerators. Deborah Tillett, president and executive director of Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Center, which houses AccelerateBaltimore, says the rapid development cycle of a mobile app works well with the accelerator’s three-month timeframe.

“You can get your viable product done very fast and head to the Apple store” or other outlet,” she says.

The first class of four companies graduated from AccelerateBaltimore, one of the many business accelerators across the country, in July. Two of the companies developed mobile apps: Kithly, an app for organizing social activities, and NewsUp, an app that discovers users’ interests and rewards points for reading suggested news items.

Andrew Schuster, chief executive officer of NewsUp.me, says his company initially was with the Emerging Technology Center incubator and then applied to AccelerateBaltimore. Once accepted, the company was given capital and access to mentors.

AccelerateBaltimore companies receive $25,000 in seed funding. As for mentors, NewsUp worked with Chris Brandenburg, co-founder and chief technology officer of Millennial Media, a mobile advertising platform company, and Michael Teitelbaum, managing partner at Right Source Marketing, a marketing consulting firm.

“The experience they had was just the best thing we could ask for,” Schuster says.

How It Works
Accelerators offer a mix of money and mentorship. In return, an accelerator may receive a small equity stake in the company, usually 10 percent or less. There may also be a requirement to keep the company in the accelerator’s geographic region for a period of time. AccelerateBaltimore, for example, initially included a 5-year residency requirement. However, the program no longer has a residency requirement.

Accelerator applicants need to have an idea they can quickly execute. Tillett says a company won’t be a fit for the accelerator if it can’t bring its idea to fruition in a couple of months and put the accelerator’s capital to good use.

“It is important that they can do what they say they are going to do in a short period of time and the money makes a difference,” she says.

A company that has a working prototype is a plus, as it will have a head start once an accelerator’s clock starts ticking. “We like companies that have prototypes -- maybe not the final product but it works and they are able to test it and they are now looking to polish their business models and start getting customers and users,” says Matt Menietti, director of operations at Capital Innovators, a St. Louis accelerator.

Capital Innovators recently launched its third class. The 12-week sessions have each had five to six participants. Companies each receive $50,000 in funding, mentoring, office space, and free hosting. They also have an opportunity to pitch investors when the program culminates in Demo Day.

The accelerator, in return for the funding and supporting a company, receives a five to 10 percent equity stake. There is no residency requirement.

Menietta says Capital Innovators takes a holistic approach taking companies through the program. Participants may avail themselves of marketing, accounting, and legal services. Marketing partners working with the accelerator help participants with their branding, website, messaging and differentiation, he adds. An accounting firm works with companies to set up accounting systems.

Capital Innovators’ companies include mobile app developers including IDC Projects, which makes location-based social games.

Managing Expectations
First-time entrepreneurs need to have realistic expectations as they approach an accelerator. Accelerators provide funding and mentoring support, but a business launch remains an arduous task. Tillett says the task involves “many pieces and part” including patent issues, licensing agreements, and, of course, the quest for additional financing.

“On any given day one of those can fall off the wagon and you have to put it back on,” she says. “The leveling of expectations is important.”

Accelerator companies should also take a hard look at marketing. In the early days of mobile apps, any product could gain customer attention. But with the market maturing and thousands of apps hitting app stores, a business needs to determine whether there are customers who want the product and develop a plan for reaching them.

“Adoption and traction is huge,” Tillett says.

The accelerators, meanwhile, look for applicants that they believe will get the most out of their programs. Capital Innovators aims to pick companies that “really understand the value of the program,” according to Menietti. “It’s not just seed funding. It’s networking...and connecting with other companies.”

Schuster also cites networking with peers as one of an accelerator’s main advantages. “Working with the other companies -- there were four companies in this program -- and being able to collaborate and talk to the other entrepreneurs and share information was a huge benefit,” he says.

In early October, AccelerateBaltimore kicked off an outreach process that will eventually fill the six slots in its upcoming class. Tillett says the accelerator plans to reach out to colleges and universities, and get the word out internationally as well.  “We are going to be very aggressive this time,” she says.

Photo: Corbis Images

App Marketing: Standing out from the Pack

The number of apps for iOS and Android is only increasing. To take one example: There are more than 8,100 health and fitness apps for the iPhone. The What’s Hot selection narrows the field to a still-daunting 120. How many iPhone owners have the time and interest to look beyond the top dozen or so?

Such is the app marketing challenge that developers face -- and not just in the health and fitness category or on the iOS platform. No wonder, then, that some developers are looking beyond Android and iOS and focusing on platforms such as Windows Phone. These smaller app selections make it easier to stand out from the pack.

“Right now, on Apple, only 40, 50, 60 apps get discovered,” says Matthäus Krzykowski, head of marketing at Xyologic, whose app store aims to make it easier for developers and consumers to get a handle on what’s available in a particular category.

Part of the challenge is that most consumers and businesspeople often don’t visit Google Play, Apple’s App Store or Amazon’s Appstore with a specific app in mind. “The vast majority of searches are for app categories,” Krzykowski says. “The typical user doesn’t know any brands. They search for things like ‘social networking’ and ‘arcade games.’”

App Marketing Strategies: Keep Away from the Crowd

One strategy for standing out in a crowded category is to avoid it – strange as that might sound. “Many developers assume they fit in one category when they haven't really explored others that may work just as well -- with less noise and competition,” says Robert Rositano, Jr., CEO of CheckMate Mobile, a developer that specializes in gaming.

“I have seen several apps that have crossover in gaming and social categories,” says Rositano. “Developers seem to gravitate toward the gaming category because of its apparent upside and excitement. In reality, the social category will typically provide much more exposure and allow the gamified aspect of the app to grow virally. We have learned this the hard way. Experience has shown us a significant increase in downloads, rank and overall visibility. If you are going to hit the gaming category, the app should be a pure-play game for the hard-core gamer.” 

The Role of App Names

When naming your app, it can be just as important to appeal to major stores’ search algorithms as it is to appeal to potential customers. The right name can leverage those algorithms to move up in rankings, as is the case with Apple’s App Store.

“They rank by title and keywords,” says Ben Sann, BestParking.com founder and CEO. “The title tag has to match the title of the app. You can’t just take the title tag and cram it with keywords. They used to allow that, but they got a little more strict. You can still stretch the title tag a little bit to include additional keywords, but it has to be in a way that makes sense as you’re reading it. You definitely want to maximize the title tag. Your keywords section should contain keywords that are not in the title tag.”

It’s also important to understand whether a particular store’s algorithms can handle acronyms and other things that might seem like a slam-dunk way to rank high in searches. “The Apple algorithm is very strict in interpreting words,” Sann says. “It won’t interpret that ‘NYC’ means ‘New York City.’ Google’s search algorithm does that; Apple’s doesn’t. It’s very literal. If you have two words, you’re better off separating them. So if you have ‘CityParking,’ you’re better off having city, comma, parking.

“Even higher than the keywords and the title is the name of the company,” Sann continues. “So you want to think long and hard how you want to call yourself. We probably shouldn’t have been BestParking.com. Maybe we should have been Best Parking.”

At the same time, don’t get too hung up on a particular store’s algorithms. These tend to change periodically and without notice. And by the time word gets around in the developer community, those algorithms might have changed yet again.

“If we (or any app developer) try and build our business on anticipation of what Apple may or may not do, what they are currently testing or what we hope will happen, we will have taken our eye off of making the most compelling app in our target category and ultimately lose as a result,” Rositano says. “Keep it simple, stay focused and simply name your app in the most descriptive way possible -- or a name that drives so much intrigue a user just has to see what it's all about.” 

A Place in the Crowd

Crowdfunding has taken off as a financing vehicle for a variety of projects, from music albums to software. Websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo bring the funding appeal to the Internet public, and they sometimes even offer rewards to people who pledge support.

Crowdfunding may sound like an apps-to-riches story. But executing a crowdfunding campaign isn’t as simple as it may sound. Here, Scott Steinberg, CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global and co-author of The Crowdfunding Bible, explains why.

What do you see as the most dangerous misconceptions regarding crowdfunding?

Scott Steinberg: The most common mistake is that people expect crowdfunding to be very straightforward, very easy and right for any type of project. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to run a campaign --  30 to 45 days is standard. We call it a marathon, not a sprint.

Crowdfunding tends to work best for projects that are easily communicable visually and can be summed up in a sentence. For a crowdfunding campaign to be effective, you need to capture the viewer’s attention very quickly and provide a strong call to action. You need to create a sense of urgency around the campaign and get people to dip into their pockets then and there.

How should an app developer -- or other funding seeker, for that matter -- set the tone for his/her pitch? Is there such a thing as creating a video pitch that’s so professional it puts some potential investors off?

S.S. There is no hard and fast metric. You need to be both compelling and authentic. You don’t have to have a professional or polished video, but lighting and audio have to be of sufficient quality. Short, snappy and to the point is always good.

Also, keep in mind that someone needs to be the face of the movement. People need to be able to empathize with the individual in question. They are buying into you as much as the end concept. A lot of people are pitching concepts and ideas, but they are not putting out a lot of hard and fast business data. You are asking people to buy into your vision. You have to convince them why you are the right person for the job and, to that extent, you need to be believable and enthusiastic.

And you don’t have to sound like someone in an infomercial. Be yourself. What we are talking about is people connecting to people to bring an idea to life.

Should app developers have an alpha or beta version of their offering before launching a crowdfunding effort?

S.S. Certainly, crowdfunding campaigns can and have been successful pitching concepts and ideas. But whenever possible, you need to be able to show a tangible end product. You need to convince people you have the ability to pull off the idea you are trying to execute. You need to convince them of the project’s value and reassure them that their money is going to make a difference and the project is going to come to fruition. It’s one thing to ask someone to dip into their wallet for an idea that may or may not yet exist, but it’s another thing to say, “There is tangible, hard proof. You can see it running for yourself.”

Providing some reassurance that this is real will enhance your chances of success. It doesn’t have to be the finished product. It could be a minimum viable product, a sample. It doesn’t have to be super polished, but it absolutely, positively helps to have something to show.

You mention in The Crowdfunding Bible that crowdfunding lets people gauge consumer interest in, and test the validity of, new concepts. For a mobile app developer, does this also provide an opportunity for ongoing evaluation as the product evolves, and could a developer recruit investors for usability testing?

S.S. Fans provide the best focus group money can’t buy. You absolutely should, whenever possible, receive feedback and integrate it into the end result. You should get feedback on the apps and also on the surrounding marketing and messaging campaign.

In the software business, once upon a blue moon people would create a sample, mockup or vertical slice and either announce it online to gauge reaction, conduct a public beta, or take it to the press in an attempt to generate interest. And if it didn’t get enough interest -- if it wasn’t good -- they would never move forward with the product. I would fully expect that many app developers will create a prototype of a product and the rewards of these crowdfunding campaigns could include an opportunity to go hands-on with it. The app could be in beta while the campaign runs concurrently. You’re getting feedback as you go.

Does it seem feasible or useful to incorporate crowdfunding into an agile development method?

S.S. At the end of the day, there are many facets of the campaign that map to agile development methods. For crowdfunding, you want to have as much to show as possible in a very tight slice. You want to get your prototype up and running fast and then iterate.

Any tips for a small app developer looking to do marketing or promotion successfully and on the cheap?

S.S. Successful crowdfunding campaigns don’t necessarily have big advertising dollars. They use the lever of social media, they leverage communities and leverage traditional press channels as well.

Before you begin, you need to identify the key influencers. Those could be developers, community websites, press, Twitter personalities. Find out where they live online and how to reach them. Think about how you can activate all of them to rally to your cause. You will also need to have specific inflection points when you make key announcements on new features and special rewards. You should stockpile information and announcements.

App developers, even indies, play on a level playing field with the giants. Anyone can conduct a successful marketing and PR campaign. But plan ahead.

Looking at crowdfunding from a wider economic perspective, does it provide any checks against excess “irrational exuberance” and bad investments?

S.S. First and foremost, it is pretty Darwinian. The best ideas bubble up to the top and a bad idea is seldom going to make it through. Crowdfunding democratizes investment. You are taking a product and putting it out there in the court of public opinion. You will know pretty quickly how they voted.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/alxpin