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Naming your mobile app can be rocky road

Naming your mobile app can be rocky road

For many aspiring mobile-app creators, first comes the brainstorm, then the team-building, then the coding, and then the hardest part of all: coming up with a name for the darned thing.

"The name of your app can be a make-or-break thing" once it launches in the app marketplace, said Garret Alan Jiroux, the Southern California music-industry entrepreneur whose video-sharing Tape App was designed by San Francisco app-developer Yeti and launched on the App Store this month. "And getting the right name in the first place is a real pain."
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Whether it's a task-specific name, such as Flight Tracker, or a made-up word into which the user can read their own meaning, such as Grindr, settling on a strong title is one of the most grueling aspects of getting an app off the ground. A winning name, like Snapchat, can help propel your app to stardom, while an unclear name -- Tellagami? -- could just be confusing.

"If you're doing a problem-solving app that you hope will get top-of-search in the App Store, you might choose a name that defines what it does," said Morgan Reed, executive director of ACT/The App Association, an advocacy group that represents 5,000 app companies and information tech firms. "The flip side is a name, like Twitter or Uber, that means almost nothing on its own, but is whimsical and attracts attention. And if you want to stand out among hundreds of thousands of competitors in the App Store, you definitely want to attract attention."
Getting to that point requires hard work, due diligence and plain dumb luck. And the journey is full of potholes, said intellectual-property attorney Christina Gagnier. With many of her clients, she says, "they think of something clever in the shower and have that 'I've-got-it!' moment, but then find out through a trademark search that five other companies have already jumped into that space. We recommend our clients go through multiple searches and come up with their best four or five names so that the process doesn't leave them completely heartbroken."

The goal, experts say, is to find a name that either clearly explains what the app does, such as Fixed -- Fight Your Parking Tickets, or tantalizes enough visitors to the App Store that it attracts a strong following, like OKCupid.

But even getting consensus on what makes a great name is hard. For Gagnier, the answer is "distinctiveness. There are a lot of companies launching apps these days that sound very similar, so your name must speak to exactly what you're trying to do with your app, versus everyone else."

For Reed, the challenge is "how to evoke a feeling about your company while at the same time being clear to your customers about what they're buying and what you're selling. But marrying all these elements together is awfully hard."

Ironically, if you're lucky enough to get a killer name registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that same good fortune can come back to haunt you because others will want to legally take it -- or steal it -- from you. The app marketplace can feel like the Wild West, with lawsuits and cease-and-desist orders flying from legitimate parties while hackers will hijack that cleverly named app you've just spent $100,000 to launch. And the cost of defending yourself in a patent dispute quickly can climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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"There are lot of hacker apps that ride on other people's trademarks," Reed said of the online renegades who will use free tools available on the Internet to essentially take over your app. Users will click on what they think is a legitimate product, then will find themselves looking at ads on the hacker's site.

"So you either have to come up with a new name because you'll start losing sales if people can't find your app," Reed said. "Or worse, they'll instead go to your competitor."

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689. Follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.
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