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Ask HN: Someone else made a "Pro" version of my app. What can I do about it?
93 points by albertogh on Nov 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments
Subject pretty much says it all. I have a successful free ad-supported application and yesterday I saw someone had published a paid application using my app name and just appending "Pro" to it. I also own <appname>.com, but the name is a bit generic and I don't have any trademarks related to it.

The app is basically a poor rip-off, so I don't think they're going to get any of my users. However, since the "Appname" vs "Appname Pro" is pretty common on the App Store I fear a lot of users might end up buying their app thinking that it's an ad-free version of my app.

The app developers have like 20 apps named "<something> Jokes" and from their blog (they have all their apps and submissions listed) I can see they've submitted a lot of apps ripping off other's names. They even got the nerve to submit an app named "FaceBook for iPad". I think this proves that this is not just an unfortunate coincidence and they won't be willing to remove the app if I ask them directly.

Has any of you dealt with this situation before? Since I'm not in the US, getting some proper legal advice regarding US law with these issues is going to be very difficult, so any advice is very appreciated.

In addition to the other suggestions, send a note to Facebook that you purchased their "FaceBook for iPad" app (include a link to the app store page) and are extremely disappointed with the functionality. After Facebook legal complains to Apple about the app perhaps the submitter will be banned and all their apps removed or at least their apps will be under much stricter scrutiny. And a request of your own to remove the "Pro" app may be better received. Also, contact the other devs who had their apps ripped off and urge them to complain about this submitter as well.

This is a great idea. If you can get coax a giant like Facebook into action you'll improve your chances quite a bit.

Double agreed. If it doesn't fix your problem, at least you've made their life difficult. Shouldn't be that hard to get facebook to act.

Good idea. The problem is "FaceBook for iPad" is listed in their submissions rather than in their apps, which means it hasn't been approved yet. However, if they end up passing the review (I have my doubts about that), I'll make sure to buy a copy and report back to Facebook.

Cross your fingers that it gets approved. They will likely get their developer license revoked and all the apps will go away...

Contact Apple, but in a forceful way. Word it as a cease and desist, with a demand that the other app be removed or renamed, and send it to the App Store team, as well as Apple legal, and the developers themselves.

Apple passes this stuff on verbatim to the other developer. (I have been on the receiving end myself.) If it's a mealy-mouthed pretty-please, I'm sure they'll ignore it, if they're dickish enough to name-squat on your app.

It helps tremendously if you've got a trademark for the app name (even a pending trademark) you're golden. Or, if there's any other infringement (i.e. they stole your icon, which is copyright infringement) you're in good shape, too.

Edited to add: not a lawyer, my legal advice is worthless, etc.

IANAL and this really only applies to US law anyways, but isn't it a registered trademark that he doesn't have? That is, I thought trademarks accrued naturally just like copyright, but that registering them made it much easier to enforce claims. In this case the violation is clear and egregious enough that I wouldn't presume he couldn't win a trademark infringement case.

That's true, as I understand it. But if he was claiming a trademark on the name he'd need to put the "TM" after the name. (Not the R-in-a-cirlce, that's only for trademarks that have been registered.) But this stuff has lots of corner cases and I don't pretend to understand it all. More info: http://www.uspto.gov/faq/trademarks.jsp#_Toc275426672

IANAL either, but my understanding is that you have common-law trademark rights from the time you start using the name in interstate commerce, whether you add TM or not.

This is correct.

It's easier to enforce a registered trademark, but common law trademark rights are all based on likelihood of confusion, which is present here.

Since this is the app store, the only law that really counts is US law. All of this is going through Apple which does business in the US.

Actually I'm not sure that's true, since for instance Apple curate different stores for different regions, and my purchases appear on my credit card statement as:


IANAL but you can probably go after these guys in any of the jurisdictions that the knockoff app is sold in.

This sounds like a very good idea. I'm going to see my lawyer tomorrow and I'll tell her about your suggestions (this one and sending the documents in Spanish). Thank you so much!

For what it's worth, here is information on submitting claims of copyright infringment to Apple: http://www.apple.com/legal/trademark/claimsofcopyright.html

I am not a lawyer but there is an obvious thing to investigate. Does it look like they used your code, your icons, etc? If so, then you have a straightforward copyright infringement case, and under US law you can send Apple a DMCA notice to get it taken down.

I don't think they copied any of my code nor assets. However, their app does basically the same as mine, but lacking and lot of features and their is UI not as polished as mine (the app looks pretty amateur).

Take a breath. I develop apps and sell them, and this has happened to me about half a dozen times. If somebody wants to make a cheap knockoff of your app, just relax. Theyll be gone in a couple weeks if not days.

If somebody wants to one up you, worry.

I'm assuming your application is listed on an app store, so have you tried the simple approach of emailing the appropriate people and asking for the app to be removed? I'm sure the TOS prevent this kind of behavior and they would be glad to assist you.

I probably should have mentioned this in the text. I previously had an issue somewhat close to this one. Someone published an app named "<appname> - <some keywords>" while I already had published "<appname>". I emailed Apple and they just told me they had let the developer know about it. I never heard from the developer nor Apple again.

Ah, the old "You're not our friend so its not our problem". While I do not have any ideas on how to deal with it outside of emailing them, the least I would do is make a disclaimer in your app's listing stating clearly that you are in no way affiliated with this "Pro" version if you haven't already. Better to save a few of those potential customers then lose them to the person who ripped you off. As far as getting the listing removed.. I'll leave that up to the powerful HN mind.

You say you're not in the US - where are you based? Because if it's Europe you don't need US legal advice. Your app is being sold to those in the EU by iTunes Sarl, as is the competing/infringing app. I know this isn't immediately helpful, but you shouldn't be under the misapprehension you can only enforce things through the US courts vis a vis the App Store. There is also a similar Australian iTunes subsidiary.

I'm in Spain. I didn't think that getting their app removed from the EU stores would make a noticeable difference, since the app is only popular in English-speaking countries. However, your point really makes sense. I'll be contacting my lawyer later today just in case.

This can work to your advantage. In my case, a developer in the EU made claims against an app of mine, and since all of the legal documents arrived in a foreign language, it cost twice as much to have a lawyer simply evaluate the claims -- they had to use a partner firm in the originating country to translate the documents.

The ongoing cost of lawyers made me fold and remove the app from the store. I still maintain to this day that I did nothing wrong, there was zero infringement and his claim was 100% legally bogus, but I couldn't afford to keep the lawyers on top of it.

So, what was bad for me might be good for you. Get a lawyer and have him draft something really strong in Spanish.

I was under the impression that I was responsible for sending them the documents in a language that they could understand. This sounds really good. Many thanks for letting me know!

Why not just release your own "Appname Pro", take out the advertisements, and charge $0.99?

One should not be forced into product decisions by namesquatters or other external behavior of that ilk. Designing, building, and supporting a new product is a big longterm investment (even if it's just a Free/Pro version).

The story behind Instapaper Free's cancellation covers some of the reasons: http://www.marco.org/2011/04/28/removed-instapaper-free

Names are unique in the App Store, so it's too late for that.

That is slightly bizarre restriction, but can be worked around by naming the app "AppName Pro by Developer".

Another work around is to create a pro app and offer in-app purchasing to upgrade to a pro version, at least your profiting from your existing user-base and they know they are not paying for this ripped off version without realising.

AppName Super-Pro?

Or AppName Hyper-Pro? That way it'll be ahead of the rip-off version alphabetically.

Appname Pro - Official

Curious, what is the name of the app?

I'd the prefer to not disclose that publicly.

Unless you have a trademark on the name you will not get any help from Apple and even then it is going to be an up hill battle so I would concentrate on making your own app as good as it can be.

Looks like you could add fraud to any list of legal action.

Lawyer up and sue for trademark infringement.

I don't have any trademarks related to it.

What infringement?

It looks like I can't edit the submission, so I'll add a comment. First, I want to thank everybody for your suggestions and let you know that I'm seeing my lawyer first thing tomorrow morning. I've been collecting evidence for a while now and I realized their app description has some portions copied from mine, so I think I got enough to fight back. I'll post an update as soon as I've got substantial information to share. Again, many thanks!


Please, take a look at this comment: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3220187

TL;DR Apple won't care

It seems you hadn't a pro app because you're outside of US and you can't publish it on android market. I think google should expand publishing rights to developers outside of US.

It's the App Store. I didn't publish a Pro version because I preferred to use IAP to remove the ads rather than publishing a separate binary.

What you describe is impossible. Apple reviews and approves every app in the store, so abusive apps can not be published.

And so I guess the guy just made it all up. Looks like it's case closed, guys.

Just tell us the name of the app. We'll do a quick check on your story and mass review the fake app to death (hopefully it's not too expensive). The 0 stars should set off alarms for would-be downloaders. Simple.

so your plan is to mass-buy the fake app. makes sense

I really appreciate your intentions, but I'd prefer to deal with this just abiding by the rules. Plus, that would give the squatter a lot of undeserved sales and would boost their rankings.

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