Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Patents Programming Software

'Nobody Cares Who Was First, and Nobody Cares Who Copied Who': Marco Arment on Defending Your App From Copies and Clones (marco.org) 169

Marco Arment: App developers sometimes ask me what they should do when their features, designs, or entire apps are copied by competitors. Legally, there's not a lot you can do about it: Copyright protects your icon, images, other creative resources, and source code. You automatically have copyright protection, but it's easy to evade with minor variations. App stores don't enforce it easily unless resources have been copied exactly. Trademarks protect names, logos, and slogans. They cover minor variations as well, and app stores enforce trademarks more easily, but they're costly to register and only apply in narrow areas.

Only assholes get patents. They can be a huge PR mistake, and they're a fool's errand: even if you get one ($20,000+ later), you can't afford to use it against any adversary big enough to matter. Don't be an asshole or a fool. Don't get software patents. If someone literally copied your assets or got too close to your trademarked name, you need to file takedowns or legal complaints, but that's rarely done by anyone big enough to matter. If a competitor just adds a feature or design similar to one of yours, you usually can't do anything. You can publicly call out a copy, but you won't come out of it looking good. [...] Nobody else will care as much as you do. Nobody cares who was first, and nobody cares who copied who. The public won't defend you.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

'Nobody Cares Who Was First, and Nobody Cares Who Copied Who': Marco Arment on Defending Your App From Copies and Clones

Comments Filter:
  • hey (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:46AM (#56175645)

    i wrote like almost exactly the same thing a week ago...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don't know? Well, see if your father can't pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don't care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares.

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      i wrote like almost exactly the same thing a week ago...

      hey, I wrote like almost exactly the same thing a week.... hold on there's a knock at the door... ARRRRRGHHHHHH, you can't do that (smack) (biff) (bam) (pow!)

      ++NO CARRIER

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      i wrote like almost exactly the same thing a week ago...

      hey, I wrote like almost exactly the same thing a week.... hold on there's a knock at the door... ARRRRRGHHHHHH, you can't do that (smack) (biff) (bam) (pow!)

      ++NO CARRIER

    • Hey! Don't go trying to glam onto the glory of other people's credit snatching! :)

  • ..will defend Apple. That's all.
    • by sjbe ( 173966 )

      Only Apple FanBoys will defend Apple. That's all.

      Ahh the old "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" strategy. Well played.

  • by Assmasher ( 456699 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:52AM (#56175693) Journal

    Many companies, including my own, obtain patents for defensive purposes. I have zero interest in attacking someone, but you will find it virtually impossible to obtain seed (much less VC or strategic) funding without a plan for providing even rudimentary protections for your IP - most especially if you're building something for an existing market (where doubtlessly there are existing patents.)

    That doesn't absolutely guarantee you wont be sued by some other asshole who uses patents to attack, but it keeps them from trying to make a quick buck off of you, and it makes it significantly less likely.

    • by cloud.pt ( 3412475 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @11:10AM (#56175801)

      that's true, but it also means VC and other funding entities simply neglect how useless some types of patents are. Independently of patent strength, VC is always looking for previous value - money already spent. And patents, like existing human resources or other tangible and intangible assets, are effectively a future cost removed, i.e. money that will not enter future accounting and depreciate their potential position.

      In the end, like many those other assets, patents are as volatile as employee exodus or asset depreciation, and I expect the importance VC puts in those is not much different. They already know it's a gamble from a lot of factors, but it's one they have to place trust in mildly less volatile stuff, and that's patents.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Fact of life:

      Patents *in realty* only serve to protect the RnD budgets of already-established dominant players in the market.

      They absolutely *DO NOT* protect the independent inventor's ability to invent something and take it to market himself. In theory, they can be used in this case. In practice, they cost too much to obtain, and after that they cost a fortune to enforce. If some big rich company rips you off, and you engage in patent litigation against them, you go bankrupt while the proceeding are sti

    • On Shark Tank the sharks always ask if they have a patent

      • The author was speaking specifically of software patents. Shark Tank entrepreneurs rarely if ever have those. The patents you usually see on Shark Tank are utility patents on a physical invention of some sort.

    • by enjar ( 249223 )

      Exactly. We would much rather not have to expend the time/energy/legal effort to file for and get patents. For many years we did not actively pursue this at all. Then a competitor sued for infringement and it became obvious that patents were another way of competing in the software business. Ideally we'd have a market where the best product could win on technical merits alone and we wouldn't need lawyers but we don't live in a perfect world. So now we have an active program to protect things we develop and

    • and can your company afford a long, drawn out lawsuit brought on from a much larger company? You think you can survive if Google/Apple/Microsoft/etc really decide to go after you? Patents are useless. If you're a small company, you can't afford to defend your patent against a much larger company. If you're a large company, you're big enough to not care because you know small companies can't afford to sue you.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:55AM (#56175709)
    Maybe the problem is that everyone is doing the pretty much the same stuff. If there's not a lot of originality in what you're doing and you're not standing out, of course you'll be extremely easy to rip off.
    • Also, it's not a big problem from the consumers point of view. I actually like that there are dozens of companies trying to sell me what is essentially the same boring pair of blue jeans. It means that I've got options and none of them can really afford to try to gouge me too much on price.

      Also, for a good number of things, wildly different or original don't necessarily mean a better product as far as I'm concerned. My morning oatmeal doesn't need to be a custom and unique experience. It's goddamn oatmea
  • File this under "Old man yells at cloud".

    So is the problem that one can't just sit back and stop working/innovating and expect to get paid? Because I'm OK with that. Let everyone copy my ideas, I'll just come up with more AND develop a reputation as a "Big Thinker" as a result ( ie: creating my own brand/value which I can then use elsewhere ).

    • by fedos ( 150319 )
      Looks like you're working on developing a reputation as a shallow thinker who easily misses the point.
      • by pem ( 1013437 )
        No, doesn't look like he's the one missing the point. All the people responding to him, however...
    • You are in the wrong market, slaving away creating while others get rich off your effort, inhaling it into their clone manufacturing warehouse.

      Have they said thank you? No?

      How do I attach my cart to you so you will pull it, too?

    • Easy to say for someone who's never had an original idea.
    • Re:Right...and? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @02:22PM (#56177057)

      So is the problem that one can't just sit back and stop working/innovating and expect to get paid?

      The problem is that if you come up with a great app, a company will come along, copy it, and put marketing dollars behind it. You won't "not continue to make money", your app won't have time to go viral before someone else's does. Look at Farmville - it was a pretty direct clone of an existing game. However, Zanga was able to copy it and market it such that more people saw Farmville first than the original. So the original developer didn't "develop a reputation", Zynga did. So the original developer didn't "stop getting paid", Zynga took all the money.

      It repeats again and again. It's fine to say that don't like 95 year copyrights (we agree). It's another to say "your work will be ripped off by someone with a PR budget, and fuck you."

    • Naw, I'm filing this under "drunk teenager yells at cloud."

  • by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:56AM (#56175719)
    2 of the last 3 paragraphs contain much better advice, IMO:

    This feels unfair when it happens to you, but it’s just how it goes, and the entire ecosystem benefits. Every app — even yours — includes countless “standard” and “obvious” features and designs that, at one time, weren’t. Everything is a remix. A great design or feature can give you a competitive advantage for a little while, but it’s always temporary. Compete on marketing, quality, and what you can do next, not the assumption that nobody can copy what you made.

    • What if you are a small three person non software business startup with a budget of $350k. How do you can compete against the marketing of samsung or intel?
      • You don't? If that is your concern the you're clearly not the right person for the job.

        • Of course not, I'm a physicist, but the OP suggested that the business needs to compete on marketing and not rely on patents for protection.
          • What makes you think you get to be a tiny startup and be competing with giant multinationals who own their own factories?

            That is like when an undergrad asks you, as a serious question, "How do I compete with Einstein?" or "How do I compete with Famous Guy Who the Publishers Love and get more papers published in big journals?"

            The question is not well answered with information that the person asking desires. The question is based on false and absurd assumptions. The existence of the question implies that the

            • What makes you think

              Because I worked there. Production tools are a multi billion dollar industry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

              Say you're working for a tool manufacturer and come up with an idea to save hundreds of hours per year (machines can cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate. You go to your boss who says it would never work. You manage to elevate it up the company, but everyone says either it wouldn't work or that nobody would buy it.

              So you quit your job, mortgage the house, buy a thousands of dollars of

      • Ask any successful startup
        • I've worked for successful startups. They've all had patents that were rarely used, but used when larger competitors copied our design.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...but not LUDDITES who copy appy app apps by making LUDDITE software that tries to be appy, but requires using LUDDITE technology like LUDDITE keyboards and LUDDITE mice!

    Apps!

    • What could be more appy than a new app that apps just like the old app, but with a different, appier name?

      What are you, some sort of LUDDITE using the Original software?! App an app, apper, if it is an appalike then it is just appier.

  • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @11:19AM (#56175865)
    I work in a high tech, non-IT field. Most innovation is done by small companies who are more nimble and can afford the r&d. These then get bought up by large corporations for hundreds of millions out of their "r&d budget". Most r&d is failure and this allow corporations to buy proven new technology.

    I bet large corporations would love to see patents go away, that way they can copy something for a million dollars vs having to buy out the startup.

    • They already do copy things. This happens all the time, especially in software. What's the small company being copied going to do about it? Good luck surviving a lawsuit against the large company doing the copying.
      • Not if you have the patent. Been there before.
        • Not if you have the patent. Been there before.

          Until they find a half-dozen patents in their portfolio that you have also infringed. Sure, they're all obvious and none of them should have been patented at all, and for a few million dollars each you can prove that in court. At least, that's how it works in software.

          • Nope/ I don't know why people woth so much hate for large corporations want to give them so much more power.
            • Nope/ I don't know why people woth so much hate for large corporations want to give them so much more power.

              Not sure what you're talking about. I neither hate large corporations nor want to give them more power.

    • I bet large corporations would love to see patents go away, that way they can copy something for a million dollars vs having to buy out the startup.

      Growth through acquisition is a corporate goal, it is not something they're reluctantly forced to do.

  • App feature duplication is bound to happen.

    What you can do about it, is all around be more responsive.

    Respond to reviews. People notice that.

    Come out with helpful (not just churn) updates frequently. A larger company is going to have trouble keeping up any kind of rapid pace of change.

    If my some miracle a competitor does come up with a good idea - well turnabout is fair play. Borg that idea and make it's uniqueness your own.

    Charge more. Price of an app is one of the few signals have besides reviews as to

  • Maybe this is telling us all that software apps are not as valuable as the VCs think they are. If it's that easy to copy, and there are effectively no barriers to copying, then what is the value? (The answer is marketing, of course... but that's the point, the software is not the value. Everyone needs to understand that ideas without implementation have no value, and that the value in implementation may come from a non-technical part of the business.)

    I work in a nanotech startup. Competitors have bought

    • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

      Maybe this is telling us all that software apps are not as valuable as the VCs think they are.

      You might have read about this [wikipedia.org] (possibly via this site that you're browsing right now) almost 20 years ago, in the Halloween I and Halloween II documents.

      Microsoft knew (mostly correctly!) the world we were heading for. My computers all run "commodity" software and with the exception of a few games, I didn't pay for any of it. Software is freely available and abundant. If I need anything, I can search the repo and

  • Nobody cares, only the content mafia.

  • Here we have an article that points out that the law can be a joke. It has always been true. Imagine that a poor person seriously wrongs you. The poor are exempt from most civil suits. After all, it costs money to win a suit and if you win there is no money to collect and likely may never be money to collect. That means that a large section of law only applies to people who have something to lose. In a way it is the opposite of criminal law. In criminal law the person who is poor will suffer a lot mo
    • by nasch ( 598556 )

      Finally someone willing to take a bold stance against the free ride that the poor have enjoyed for far too long.

      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        Finally someone willing to take a bold stance against the free ride that the poor have enjoyed for far too long.

        I suppose you were being sardonic with that. Why don't you get back to us after you've been injured in a car crash with a poor, uninsured driver.

        • by nasch ( 598556 )

          Hey if you want to rail against uninsured drivers, go right ahead. It's totally unfair to others to drive a car around without the means to make someone else whole if you cause an accident. However, I would argue that is a very different complaint than "those poors sure have it easy because they have no money for the rest of us to take away from them with lawsuits".

  • Only assholes get patents. They can be a huge PR mistake, and they’re a fool’s errand: even if you get one ($20,000+ later), you can’t afford to use it against any adversary big enough to matter.

    ... A great design or feature can give you a competitive advantage for a little while, but it’s always temporary. Compete on marketing, quality, and what you can do next, not the assumption that nobody can copy what you made.

    A mere $20k marketing budget is not going to buy you much of a competitive advantage, and certainly not against "any adversary big enough to matter". Their $200k marketing budget (if not $2M or more) is going to crush you. The only defense you have against them is patents.

    "But if you try to sue them, they'll bury you in legal fees!"

    Yes and no... First, those big cases are the ones firms will take on contingency - look at Microsoft v. i4i and their $450M judgement. Law firms will happily defer fees for a bite at those. So even if they try to bury you, they're not really burying you, but your lawyers who are willing to take on that risk.
    Second, you don't have to be involved at all: if you have a giant adversary, then odds are you probably have two giant adversaries. So if one steals your idea, then approach the other with an offer to assign the patent to them (with a royalty-free grantback license to you). They'll go after your competitor for you, you get a chunk of capital (and possibly royalties) that you wouldn't have had otherwise, and you can still practice your invention. At worst, you end up competing with one giant adversary rather than two or more.

    Mr. Arment should probably stick to developing apps, rather than offering legal advice.

    • They'll go after your competitor for you

      I was agreeing with you up to this point. They probably have a ceasefire with their competitor over patents and just use jointly use them to keep out the riffraff.

      • They'll go after your competitor for you

        I was agreeing with you up to this point. They probably have a ceasefire with their competitor over patents and just use jointly use them to keep out the riffraff.

        Like Apple and Samsung? ;)

        • Well, if your patent is worth in the 100's of millions, sure. But I believe they do have a ceasefire over their giant arrays of stupid patents.

    • In the United States contingency is almost exclusively for personal injury cases. It is not something you can just plan for and assume you'll have access to. That is idiotic.

  • Since you can't fight it, use the copy's as a badge of honor. In your app, in help or the about, or splash page, proudly display a list of the other apps that have copied your features. than add something like "Why go with the clones, go with the original.."
    • According to this, nobody cares, you're only giving them free advertising. You're basically saying, "Hey, I was already here but lots of people went out of their way to choose these other apps that are similar!" You're using attention directed at your app, to call attention to other apps.

      If you want to say you're the original, that might be fine, but it isn't some sort of powerful magic that makes it OK to talk about the competitors. The only time you should talk about a competitor is when you're the clone,

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @03:07PM (#56177321) Homepage

    > even if you get one ($20,000+ later), you can't afford to use it against any adversary big enough to matter

    Right, so that's why there's a bunch of nobodies successfully suing fortune 500 companies in Texas.

    Because the term "patent troll" doesn't exist.

  • At the smaller/individual development shop level, the idea that blowing off reacting to all but the most literal of copies of your work makes sense, and it's been a part of the lives of fashion designers since the beginning of time.

    This is likely the primary driver for why fashion and fabrics change so fast, because fashion can't be copyrighted, and a successful design will attract knockoffs before a year is out.

    My suspicion, based on the hassles s/w shops large and small have dealing with patent search and

  • A web / iphone developer shooting his virtual mouth off online about complex legal matters is claiming that people who don't follow his incorrect advice about I.P. protection are "assholes"?

    Maybe the asshole is in your bathroom mirror, Marco.

    In the meantime, patents are useful in the real world, the extremely small percentage of abuse articles we see on slashdot doesn't change that.

  • The comments on how the public perceives what you do reminds me of the SEA vs PKARC lawsuit back in the day. They ended up settling, and the settlement meant that SEA essential won, legally,but the online chatter about the suit, and people's perceptions about what SEA was attempting to do (IIRC, SEA's attempt to claim proprietary ownership of ARC file formats and (particularly galling) the .ARC extension did not go over well) meant that SEA went from having a defacto monopoly to being an also-ran fairly q

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!

Working...