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Posts Tagged ‘intellectual property’


A Good Business Owns Its IP

November 23rd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Intellectual property is rapidly becoming one of the most valuable assets many businesses have. Think about a company like Google, built entirely on computer code and other intellectual property that the business has developed. It’s not just a matter of what big businesses create, either. Smaller businesses have plenty of intellectual property of their own. From proprietary processes to the logo on your business card, intellectual property is what sets businesses apart.

That’s why it’s so astounding that there are businesses out there that don’t own any of what might otherwise be considered their intellectual property. There are companies that rely on others’ intellectual property to function. That might mean paying for access to the processes that your employees follow for day to day work or it may mean that a graphic designer is the actual owner of your logo and other promotional materials.

The Question of Ownership

In many cases, intellectual property comes with a hefty price tag. Something that can sound relatively simple — like developing your own process to complete a given project — can be surprisingly expensive, as well as require a sizable investment of time. But that cost is upfront. It’s the difference between buying office space and paying rent. While there’s a big price that goes along with buying property, for many types of businesses that plan to be in the same spot year after year, the actual total cost is much lower.

But while buying property may be out of reach for many small businesses, making sure you own your intellectual property is much closer. The main reason that most businesses choose, for instance, to only pay for their immediate graphic design needs is that the cost for the finished product is lower than the cost of getting all of the files involved, including an editable version of your logo. The price difference can be huge and if you aren’t able to edit your projects for the future yourself, it may seem pointless.

Legalities and Price

If your contract with your graphic designer says that the designer retains ownership of the ads and other intellectual property related to your business’ marketing, you may be in trouble if you want to take an ad created for a print publication and put it online. There are other legal problems that can pop up, depending on the intellectual property involved. By paying more at the start, you can avoid the legal fees that could go along with a problem later on, as well as put yourself in a position where you simply can use your intellectual property any way you choose.

If you have any concerns about your intellectual property (or who owns the intellectual property you routinely use), consulting with a legal professional who specializes in intellectual property should be your first stop.

Image by Flickr User Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)

DISCLAIMER: The information posted in this blog is provided for informational purposes. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information presented here is not to be construed as legal or tax advice. Network Solutions recommends that you consult an attorney or tax consultant if you want professional assurance that the information posted, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular business.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

August 3rd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Intellectual property, from copyrights on your marketing materials to patents on the processes you use to create your products, are crucial to your business’ ability to keep on earning money. It’s easy for a business owner to focus more on physical assets, but it’s also important to protect the less tangible pieces of your business. Similarly, you want to make sure that your business isn’t infringing on other companies’ intellectual property — if only to avoid costly legal problems.

Planning for Protection

“The first thing small business owners can do to protect their own intellectual property is to recognize its value and plan for it like you would any other element of your business plan,” says Chrissie Scelsi, who specializes in media law. She points out that the first step that any business owner should take is to appropriately register your intellectual property with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. While it may be possible to protect your claim to a particular piece of intellectual property without registering it, in most legal matters, problems can come down to who has the paperwork from the USPTO.

You should also create internal systems for checking up on the possibility of infringement. There are many new tools that make the process easier. Scelsi says, “As you proceed in business, also keep an eye on the competition and what they are doing relative to your intellectual property. Has someone adopted a similar store name down the street? Did your Google alert come up with another party using your business name or trademark? Run a search periodically for similar business and product names. Be vigilant, once you have registered or acted otherwise to protect your intellectual property, you don’t want to let down your guard. This applies to employees that leave, particularly if you have an invention or trade secret.”

Protect Yourself from Other Business’ Problems

Getting pulled into a legal dispute over intellectual property can be an expensive proposition. Not only is it important to avoid actual cases of infringement, but avoid even the appearance of violating another company’s intellectual property. Setting policies in place that help you to research any new trademark, project or even web copy can help protect you. Even if the policy is little more than running a search on Google before you start the trademark process, you can save yourself a lot of time down the road.

Scelsi also suggests ensuring that you own all intellectual property associated with your business. “Small business owners also should work from the word go to make sure that they own anything that is created for them. This means that if you have a logo created for your business, have the designer sign an agreement or put in writing that you indeed own that logo and have all rights to it.” If intellectual property is created specifically for your business, you have less to worry about when it comes to unintentionally infringing on another company’s intellectual property.

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan

What You’ll Get with a Work For Hire

July 13th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

When you ask a freelance graphic designer or content writer to create a project for your business, you don’t always get all the rights to that project. As a matter of fact, unless you specifically outline something else in your contract with a freelancer, you typically have the right to use the results of their work for you, but the ownership of that actual content still rests with a freelancer.

This isn’t necessarily the problem it seems like it might be: it’s very rare that a freelancer would reuse work created for another client due to the fact that it would be bad for that freelancer’s business. But it is something to consider when discussing the contract, especially when you have the alternative of asking the freelancer to complete your project as a work for hire.

What is a work for hire?

With a work for hire, you own all rights to the design, content or other project that you’ve asked a freelancer to create. It’s up to you whether that work can be licensed to someone else down the road and whether you can create derivative works from it. Essentially, you hold the copyright on the project. The trade-off is that many freelancers will ask for a higher rate to create a work for hire because it does mean that any income they could have earned from reworking the project down the road will be entirely unavailable.

That higher price can be worthwhile. If, for instance, you ask a freelance writer to create a series of posts for your company’s blog, under a work for hire agreement, you can turn around and compile those posts into an ebook after they’ve run on your blog. Otherwise, though, you have to get permission from the writer and may have to pay an additional fee. If such future use is less of a concern, however, it may be worthwhile to save some money and not worry about getting a work for hire.

How do you ask for a work for hire?

When ironing out the details of the contract you sign with any freelancer you work with, you’ll need to mention the fact that you expect a work for hire, as well as add a clause to the contract. Copyright law assumes that if ownership of a particular work isn’t laid out in a contract, it automatically belongs to the individual that created that work.

Not all freelancers are comfortable offering the option of a work for hire and you may have to discuss the subject in some depth. By being willing to pay a premium for a work for hire, though, you can reduce the negotiations significantly.

Once you are in agreement about the use of a work for hire, it’s also useful to discuss the format the project will be provided to you in. In many cases, freelancers provide a finished project made for a particular use. But it can be worthwhile to get copies of the working files — for instance, if you’ve got a new logo that’s been formatted for use on a website, having the full file can make it easier to use the same logo for print jobs.

Image by Flickr user stuartpilbrow