On the face of it, “who owns my IP?” ought to be a very easy question to answer. However, that’s not always the case. Take copyright for example.
If there is no agreement in place to the contrary, copyright materials created by employees of a company will belong to the employer. So far, so good – but only if the right rules are in place.
Take software coding and website design, for instance. Much of the software that we use today has been built using open source tools. All of these come with some sort of licence attached, and it is very important to understand its terms. For example, some can only be used for non-commercial purposes; others have a requirement that enhancements you make must be shared with the wider community, making it unprotectable.
When your developers interface with the open source community, check how free they are to use other people’s ‘objects’. Some developers have a knack of ‘borrowing’ code from other people’s applications – a clear copyright breach unless explicitly permitted.
Copyright difficulties aren’t restricted to the more technical end of the spectrum. It may be easy to copy text and pictures from around the web, but it’s also illegal. Fortunately, this is an easy trap to avoid – for example, vast image libraries are available online that will supply the pictures you need and the appropriate permissions to use them.
Often, important copyright materials your business uses will not have been created by an employee, in which case a different set of rules apply. If you outsource the development of your website, ask contractors to create software code for you, hire a product designer or use an advertising or marketing agency, these third parties will own the copyright in question unless (until) you agree with them to the contrary. This can have a serious impact if you want to license or sell your products and services (or indeed your business).
Since none of us like the idea of being held to ransom over these assets, it’s worth taking three simple precautions:
- Agree up front in writing that the supplier is responsible for ensuring that they do not infringe anyone else’s copyright when they work for you.
- Agree up front that the copyright will pass to you on payment (and that this will include a waiver of any moral rights the contributor may have).
- When you settle your bill, ask the contractor to assign these rights (but not the liabilities for any breach) to you in writing, in return for the agreed payment. You can download a suitable form of words free of charge from the Inngot website).
If you’ve not done this for materials already in use and paid for, it’s still worth approaching the agency for a copyright assignment, though it might be harder to avoid picking up any liabilities along with it.
Visit www.inngot.com to profile and value your IP and intangibles, and download your free copyright assignment template.