Report: Squatters in iTunes App Store a growing problem

Fri, Oct 9, 2009


A recent report in recombu describes the growing problem of squatters in the iTunes App Store – a term which refers to developers who register catchy sounding iPhone app titles but don’t actually submit an app of the same name to iTunes.

Having spent months developing an app called ‘Twitch’, when it came to Atomic Antelope registering the app’s name, it couldn’t. Someone else had registered the name ‘Twitch’ but when Atomic Antelope looked to see if it could find it on the app store, it couldn’t. Worse still, unlike domain names, Atomic Antelope had no way of contacting the person who had registered the name.

iPhone developer Justin Williams went through a similar experience:

What I’ve learned from this ordeal is that iTunes Connect allows you to partially register your application name at any time during the development process. As long as you enter the name and fill in all the relevant fields with any sort of data, you can stake your claim on any given name. The key is the “Upload binary later” field.

This in essence allows for the AppStore equivalent of domain squatting and hijacking.

One of the frustrations encountered by developers is that there’s no way for them to get into contact with the “owner” of a particular iPhone title, all but negating any chance they might have had to negotiate for naming rights.  At the same time, this lack of correspondence suggests that developers who quickly register a few iPhone titles may not be interested in a quick buck, but rather do so as a form of insurance should an idea they’re tossing around actually come to fruition sometime down the road.

The article writes that Apple allows iPhone titles to be registered before binaries are submitted because “the application’s name will almost certainly be featured in numerous locations throughout the application, requiring the developer to have the name already claimed before submitting the final application.”

That makes sense, but it’s probably a good idea for Apple to implement some guidelines to combat squatters who are simply snatching up names by the dozens on the off chance that they might actually develop something later on.


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Walt French Says:

    This is a more reasoned argument than the reflexive response I saw at two other sites. (One goes so far as to picture a criminal holding a “Twitch” badge, which I take to be defamatory.) But there is not in any of the reports I read ***ANY*** evidence that the first person to register for Twitch is actually Squatting on the name.

    As you say, there are good and proper reasons to grab a name before you upload the software, to the extent that it would be stupid to NOT do so. And as you must know, the development process is sometimes rocky; I’ve been in contact with a successful but small developer who’s bumped into several big-time gotchas in creating a very full-featured program onto the iPhone.

    So AA is frustrated, but has zero evidence for the claim of squatting; he might himself have been guilty of what he charges had he not been second in line.

    More broadly, there are other ways that companies assert legal rights to names. I can’t create an iPhone program called “Scrabble” not just because the name’s been registered at the store, but because another firm has legal right to market games under that name. If AA wants that name badly enough, all he has to do is start marketing a game (preferably for a mobile device) under it that name, and register the trademark. He then has a great case for forcing the name out from under the supposed squatter.

    But his whining is about not being first. He is only belatedly understanding the rules to the game. Too bad that he didn’t also announce that instead he was instead using “Spaz” or “Tic,” instead (two possible substitutes to capture whatever he wants to highlight, neither of which seem to be in use); that way he’d be able to use this manufactured incident to get your free publicity for whatever he actually does.

  2. Walt French Says:

    Oh, a PS: anybody who thinks the above is legal advice is in bad shape. It is not.

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