An application programming interface (API) is a library or structured set of software tools that provides an interface to a backend software platform, such as a social networking platform, without providing direct access to the underlying source code of the platform. For example, Facebook™, Twitter™, Instagram™, LinkedIn™, Google Plus™, and Tumblr™ offer APIs so that developers can interface with their social networking platforms, resulting in widespread development of various social network based software applications. For example, social gaming applications use social network APIs to access social connections and profile page data, and publish activities to user news feeds and profile pages. Using the social network API, a developer can add social features to a software application with profile, friend, status, photo, video, event, and group data from the social network platform. The software application may exchange data with the social network platform through API software tools.
A software application built using a social network application API is often tightly connected and dependent on the underlying social network platform, which gives rise to practical legal considerations.
Branding of the software application built using the API requires careful consideration of any third party trade-marks, including the social network trade-mark. Generally, the owner has exclusive of use of its trade-mark. Any software application branding may not be permitted to refer to the social network brand or another third party brand in a way that causes confusion as to the owner. Again, even if a trademark dispute is unfounded or uncertain, the social network can effectively shut down operation of the software application pending its resolution.
Accordingly, while using an API for a social network may facilitate software development, the dependency of the software application on the underlying social network requires additional legal diligence.
Maya Medeiros (Maya.Medeiros@nortonrosefulbright.com / 416.216.4823) is a lawyer, Patent Agent, and Trade-mark Agent in the Toronto office of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada.