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I've just received an email from a Turkish app developer who believes my app infringes on his trademark. I've done some reading and read that essentially I'm not allowed to violate any patents or outright steal the work by copying it but otherwise should be fine if portions of the apps match. To elaborate:

  • I'm from Germany, the other developer is from Turkey

  • The app is distributed using the Google Play store (US-based)

  • Both apps provide the same core functionality

  • There are about 40 apps providing the same core functionality

  • The app of the other developer was published in 2015, mine in 2017.

  • My app was created from the ground up and doesn't use any sources of other apps (I created the layout by myself as well)

  • The other developer seems to hold at least some sort of copyright in Turkey: https://imgur.com/a/HWtyDh4 (blacked out)

  • Both have a very, very similar name. There are 40+ apps on Android alone which share this name as well. There was software prior to both apps with this name.

I admit that both apps have a similar main UI (same color, same input elements) which however noticeably differ in design choices, user experience, and scope. But apart from that (the main view), the UI differs completely.

Is there any grounds for copyright infringement, if the apps look similar, but the actual sources aren't derived from any sort of original work?

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    I'm a private person, my app is non-commercial (no ads, no payments, no tracking) -- thus I manage it myself without a company. – Ch4t4r Apr 17 at 19:05
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    That is fine, I just wondered if you had an office or anything in Turkey that would put you under Turkish laws. – Putvi Apr 17 at 19:06
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    copyright != trademark. A trademark must be registered via an authority and has a geographic validity and also a scope. In your case the scope is certainly overlapping while I don't think a turkish trademark has any value in the EU... Copyright is about authorship of code/binaries/images/graphics/texts etc. and their license to use. – Bakuriu Apr 17 at 21:12
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    Trademark, copyright or patents? You should clarify which one they are complaining about. – user253751 Apr 17 at 22:48
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    Consider talking to a intellectual property lawyer in your country. At least here in the US, you can often get a free initial consultation. You can see what countries a trademark is registered in here: wipo.int/branddb/en My personal suggestion is for you to register your trademark in your jurisdiction. If you are successful, you can potentially get the other person kicked off the Google Play store in your jurisdiction, and any other jurisdictions you register. If the developer had a case, the person who contacted you would have complained to Google. – Juan Apr 18 at 18:41
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There are multiple parts to copyright when it comes to an app. The first is the code and the second is the content in the app.

Copyright an app. You can claim copyright protection for the actual code of an app, but there is a lot more that copyright law protects. An app that serves as a virtual tour guide through museums, for example, may have a script that describes all of the artwork. That script may be copyrightable. For an app that provides dozens of pictures of houses representing various architectural styles, each picture may be copyrightable. In addition to the app itself, the individual parts of your app may be collectively or individually copyrightable, so be sure to consider the full value of your app. https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/four-steps-to-protect-your-app-and-yourself

You said you wrote all the code, so you probably aren't violating any copyrights code wise.

That leaves the content of the app as the only way you could be in violation. If your app uses any of the content from his app, you would be violating the copyright.

Copyright protects the way in which an idea is expressed. For example, it's possible for two dictionary apps to exist, because you can't copyright the concept of a dictionary. However, if one app uses definitions from the other or copy and pastes elements of its design, that app could have copyright infringement issues. While the best apps are ones that fill a gap, multiple apps can exist in the same niche if they don't borrow one another's content. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/copyright-stop-making-iphone-apps-76231.html

Obviously, in similar apps, some UI elements may be similar, but you can't outright copy any graphics, text, or otherwise copyrighted or trademarked content.

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    Thanks for the links. I did neither copy any layouts nor any sort of artwork (like icons, texts, graphics and such) which leaves me under the impression that I should mostly be fine. I understand that anyone can sue for anything though (which doesn't mean that a lawsuit would be successful). – Ch4t4r Apr 17 at 19:24
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    I hope it goes well and thanks for accepting my answer. – Putvi Apr 17 at 19:33
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Disclaimer: I'm from the US and don't claim to know German or Turkish law. So let me discuss some general principles here, but details may well be different in Germany and Turkey.

You're mixing together three very different things: trademark, copyright, and patent.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, in this case, the exact computer code, images, etc. If you didn't copy his code, the chance that you would coincidentally write identical code is remote. The fact that you both have a line of code that says x=x+1 wouldn't give him any grounds for a lawsuit. He'd have to show substantial portions of the code were identical. If you didn't deliberately copy his code, this isn't going to happen. Barring some extraordinary and unbelievable coincidence, you can't violate copyright accidentally.

Trademark protects names and symbols used to identify a company or a product. If you decided to call your software company "Microsoft", then that other Microsoft could sue you for trademark infringement. Likewise if you copied somebody else's logo or other distinctive graphics. This is very different from copyright. It is quite possible to violate someone's trademark accidentally. Especially if he gave his company or product a rather generic name. Like if someone called his product, say, "Password Manager", someone else might make a product with the same name without ever having heard of the original. Ditto if he has some simple logo or other graphics. If you did accidentally duplicate a name or graphic elements, well, in the US a court would likely order you to change your name or graphics and that would be the end of it, unless you refused, in which case you'd end up in court. US Courts have ruled that very generic names have limited trademark protection. An example I saw recently was "Main Street Auto Repair". A court said that the owner of that name could prevent someone else from opening a shop in the same town with the same name, but he couldn't sue someone in another town who happened to use the same name. This is why, by the way, companies often use made-up words for their product names. In your case, this should be a trivial issue. If he is claiming trademark to the look of the main menu screen, just change the colors or move some buttons around. If it actually went to court, you should be able to argue that the similarity was accidental and when you were informed you promptly changed it, and that should be the end of it. Depending, I guess, on how hard-nosed the judge is, etc.

Patents are different still. A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to use an invention or process for a specified period of time. It doesn't matter if you invented the same thing entirely independently. Whoever filed the patent first has exclusive rights. There have been cases where an inventor lost out to someone with a similar invention because he submitted his patent application one day later. If this other person has patents that you are infringing, you are pretty much out of luck.

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    A very elaborate answer which explains the basics to someone like me, thanks. I don't believe the other developer is going to sue, I just offer similar services for free which might bother him. The names of the apps are very, very similar - Both are named DNS Changer - but I would argue that this name is very basic and can not be trademarked (a trademark search revealed nothing as well). But as you mentioned, this decision would be up to a judge if it came to that. – Ch4t4r Apr 17 at 19:33
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    You have the same name? Change the name my man. – Putvi Apr 17 at 19:35
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    I get you that its a common name and thing. I just meant its a nice gesture. – Putvi Apr 17 at 20:52
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    I am so happy to see this answer. The source of the confusion might be of interest to you: it's the term "intellectual property." See the article Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It's a Seductive Mirage – Wildcard Apr 17 at 22:26
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    "Barring some extraordinary and unbelievable coincidence, you can't violate copyright accidentally." That extraordinary and unbelievable coincidence wouldn't be a violation of copyright: it would be independent recreation. You'd have a heck of a time proving it in court but, copyright violation has to be actual copying, not just independently having the same idea. – David Richerby Apr 18 at 13:34

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