Legal Protection for Mobile Apps 

Mobile Applications generally referred to as mobile apps run mostly on smartphones and smart gadgets e.g. tablets, wearable watches, etc. and have been classified by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as “Making a Living in the Creative Industry Initiative”.  The initiative was to sensitize developers and publishers to give due consideration to the Intellectual Property (IP) aspect of their works. This was necessitated by projections that by 2020the usability would exceed six (6) – billion users – now christened ‘app gadgets’ users.   Originally, Mobile apps were intended for productivity but their use has grown over time to all other aspects of our lives.  In most of our interactions, these platforms are used from financial technology (fintech), gaming, to now daily productivity across sectors of our economies.  Statistically, there are more than three (3) – million apps worldwide, and the number continues to rise exponentially even at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has gripped the world for more than four (4) – months now.  Their usability has been necessitated by stayathome, social distancing, and government directives to support the fight against the spread and the majority are now using app gadgets to fill the void.  Kenyan market has produced various productivity apps that have been conceptualized, designed, and developed locally by our software engineers who are very ready to compete in the global market using international standards, as internet technology penetration has transformed the world into a global village. That said, Ngamia Apps are such a productivity platform that delivers Convenience, Efficiency, Affordability, Security Effectively (C.E.A.S.E) as a value proposition to the general consumer and service providers in the transport and logistics industry.   Even though locally engineered mobile applications find their way to the Google Play (Android) and Apps Store (iOS) as download repositories, the Kenyan government locally protects them under the Copyright Act and the brand names under the Trade Mark Act.  These initiatives to some extend provide protection and privileges to the local ideas and innovations as much as the frameworks, the programming languages are foreign i.e. Google (Android Java Based) & Apple (iOS & OS-X Swift Based).  How are Mobile Apps protected under the Copyright ActKenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), the organization under whose jurisdiction your idea/product is protected defines the whole schema as “a computer program of set instructions expressed in words, codes, schemes or in any other form, which is capable when incorporated in a medium that the computer can read of causing a computer to perform or achieve a particular task or result”, and since these mobile apps are built using computer codes, they are therefore literally works that are protected from unauthorized use and copying because computer programs are created using source code as instructions created using human-readable language.   If we shift our attention to the Trade Mark Act, the Nice Agreement of 15th June 1957 with WIPO of Geneva, it’s a requirement that for a mark to be protected, it must be distinctive and registered in relation to the particular goods and services in accordance with the international classification as provided for in the Nice Classification.  Since Trade Mark aids in “Brand Recognition” and helps in distinguishing a company from competitors, and service provision.  Trade Mark should be a mark of origin that exhibits strong brandsgoodwill, and can be quantified in monetary terms because it’s the total outcome of what a product or aorganization represents and is associated with – Vision, Mission Core Values.  A company may be interested in the Industrial Property Act which provides for and protects the promotion of inventive and innovative activities.  This act also facilitates the acquisition of technology through the grant and regulation of patents.  If an app has a technological innovations model or has a new process that is not obvious, then the same can be patented. Since technology is highly dynamic, and the process of examination, prosecution and final registration takes time, this mode of protection is undesirable by many organizations.  Copyright and Trade Mark remains the most popular mode of intellectual property rights protection of mobile apps in Kenya because of the speed of executions especially for the technologies that focus more on the user interface, digital experience, and convenience.  By Sammy Muturi   


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