United Arab Emirates: Arrested Development: Legal Considerations For App Developers In The Middle East

Last Updated: 26 July 2017
Article by Nick O'Connell

App development is a flourishing industry across the Middle East. We are regularly approached by clients seeking legal advice on issues relating to app development. In some instances, the app is intended to streamline or digitise an existing process of a broader business. In other instances, the app is the business. In this article, we outline some basic legal considerations relevant to developing and rolling-out a new app.

Who owns it?

In some cases, the client company has in-house technical capabilities to develop its own app. In this scenario, it is important to make sure that the terms of the employment agreements of the individuals working on the coding provide that the employer owns the intellectual property rights in the developed app. On the point of ownership of an employee's work product, it should not be assumed that the law in the UAE, or elsewhere in the GCC, is the same as one might find in many other jurisdictions.

Where it is necessary to engage an external developer to undertake the app development, the approach to ownership will depend on the nature of the app being developed. For example, an app that is basically an 'off the rack' or 'white label' product, which only requires minimal customisation for the client company, would not typically be owned by the client company. It would normally be adequate for an appropriate licence to be in place, providing the client company the right to use the app in the manner it requires, whilst making clear that the client company retains all rights in any aspects that it contributes to the customised app. In contrast, where a bespoke app is prepared by an external developer, essentially from scratch at the client company's direction and specification, then it is very important to make clear that all rights in the app vest in the client company and the developer has no right to the app. Failure to address these issues at the outset may result in disputes as to ownership of the app.

An engagement with an external app developer should also include details such as confidentiality obligations, licences of any third party content used in the development of the app, and also warranties of non-infringement (and indemnities in the event of infringement) of third party intellectual property rights. If the app is going to need technical support during a warranty period or ongoing technical support over a longer term, it would also be prudent to consider engaging the developer to provide this type of support.

Regardless of whether the app is developed externally or internally, consideration should also be given to the listing of the app in the relevant digital distribution platform (e.g. Apple App Store, Google Play, or Windows Store). We have encountered many instances where the client company had expected the app to be listed in its own name, only to find that it ended up being listed in the name of an employee or an external developer.

What about broader legal and regulatory considerations?

Another important preliminary consideration relates to the underlying business. If you are producing an app that is revolutionising microcredit, have you thought about whether there are any financial services regulations that might impact on what you are doing? If you are introducing an app that connects freelancers with people needing work done, could you be facilitating non-compliance with licensing laws or directly breaching labour laws? If your app is going to allow people to order overnight petrol deliveries to their homes, have you made sure you are compliant with the rules relating to distribution of fuel? If your app is going to permit ride sharing or consumer-to-consumer car hire, have you thought about whether the transport regulator might have something to say on that? If your app-based e-commerce business is, through its payment structure, essentially providing credit, have you considered whether the local Central Bank's rules relating to digital payment providers may apply to you? If your app is going to bring fantasy sports to the Middle East, have you taken formal advice on whether it might be facilitating unlawful gambling? Is your 'Muslim version of 'Tinder' going to be embraced by the local telecoms regulator?

As much as you might think you are 'disrupting' existing business models, you need to appreciate that laws and regulations may already exist in the space in which your app is going to be operating. Just because what you are doing may be innovative and not fit neatly into existing legal requirements, it would be reckless to think that the rules do not apply to you or that you simply need not comply. In some instances, non-compliance could result in significant criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

What about app documentation?

It would typically be necessary to have terms that set out the basis upon which consumers or end users use the app, and govern the arrangement between the client company and its customers. As well as the type of details that any agreement might have, such terms and conditions will really need to be tailored to the specific purpose of the app and the associated business processes. An app for online retailing would need details on the mechanics of shipping and returns. An app that acts as a platform for introducing maintenance service providers to property owners would need to include details on complaints and responsibility for unsatisfactory work. An app that introduces restaurants and provides a platform for reviews would need to include clear demarcation as to responsibility for the content of user reviews.

The customer-facing terms and conditions are one side of the equation. In many instances, there will also need to be back-end agreements with merchants and service providers. These agreements will address aspects that are quite different to those addressed in the consumer-facing terms and conditions but, to the extent that some of the aspects overlap, it will also be necessary to make sure there is no conflict.

Privacy policies that set out the type of personal data that is gathered via the app, the purposes for which such data is used and the basis for such use, are also very important. In the GCC, where issues relating to personal data protection are generally not well-addressed in legislation, there are certain minimum requirements that should be met. It is also prudent to try to take an 'international best practice' approach so as to limit risk and future-proof this aspect of the operation. This is particularly important in circumstances where developments in personal data protection regulation outside the region may have an impact on the processing of personal data within the region.

It is also important to bear in mind the requirements of the relevant digital distribution platforms when it comes to developing user terms and conditions and privacy policies so that the documentation does not conflict with any of the platform requirements. Obviously, familiarising yourself with the platform requirements is a fairly fundamental consideration for the entire project and it would be sensible to do so early in the process.

What about registering intellectual property rights?

Preliminary trade mark clearance searching in the relevant markets for the name and logo under which the app is to be made available is important. A third party's prior trade mark rights could act as a barrier to the use of the proposed name or logo and provide a basis for a trade mark infringement action. Additionally, registering the app's name and logo would provide a basis for action against others subsequently seeking to use an identical or confusingly similar name or logo for similar offerings. A trade mark registration also provides a clear legal right that can become an asset for the purposes of valuation or sale of the associated business. Further information on considerations relating to trade mark protection for apps may be found in the article "How to Protect Your Trademark Smartly" in the November 2013 edition of Law Update.

We are often asked if it is necessary to register copyright in software code. Copyright subsists in a copyright work without the need for any registration, although in the UAE (unlike in most countries) a copyright registration system also exists. The registration of copyright in the original coding of an app might be useful if one were seeking evidence of ownership of copyright in the software code, although our general view is that it should not be considered essential to register copyright in software code in the UAE. If one were to initiate a formal dispute as to the ownership of copyright in software code in the UAE, it may ultimately be necessary to submit proof of ownership of copyright in the software code in the form of a UAE copyright registration certificate, but seeking to register copyright at the outset to provide for this possibility may not be the most commercially pragmatic approach.

Care should also be taken to ensure that the app does not infringe copyright by incorporating any third party content (be it software code or 'creative' content such as images, graphics, text, or music) without the necessary authorisations.

The relevance of patent protection to apps is fairly nuanced. Copyright is the typical intellectual property right under which software, including apps, is protected. Patent protection relates to inventions that are novel and have an inventive step. The extent to which software or associated business processes might be eligible for patent protection varies considerably around the world. The position in the UAE is that computer programs as such are excluded from patentability, whereas computer programs suitably linked to hardware and presented as a technical solution to a technical problem might be considered eligible for patenting. This is broadly similar to the position in Europe.

Besides the question of whether an app is likely to be patentable from a technical perspective, consideration should also be given to the issue of whether seeking to patent the app makes commercial sense. Would the cost and timeframe associated with seeking a patent align with the potential commercial benefit and likely lifespan of the app? Would a patent or a pending patent application, actually add value to the business beyond the value associated to other intellectual property (e.g. copyright and trade marks) already associated with the app? Seeking to patent an app should not be considered absolutely essential in every case, although it is something to consider on a case by case basis.

What next?

Documenting proper arrangements with the developer, be it an employee or third party service provider, is essential. Consideration should be given to whether there might be any underlying legal or regulatory restrictions on what the app is proposing to do, how it is proposing to do it, and whether the terms of the relevant digital distribution platforms might also preclude what you have in mind. Suitable front-end and back-end documentation also needs to be prepared. It is also sensible to consider whether any intellectual property rights should be cleared or registrations sought.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions