As important as protecting intellectual property (IP) is, it is just as important not to infringe upon someone else’s IP. Not only is it morally wrong tantamount to theft, the expense following an infringement suit can run high. This may seem painfully obvious, but a number of people who infringe do so unknowingly or believe they did not need a license or permission. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Entrepreneurs and startups need to allocate funds wisely; IP litigation is not where you want to be spending your time and resources.
There are a number of easy-to-follow principles you can employ to avoid infringing on someone else's IP. At the inception stage of product development, it is smart to make sure the product does not inadvertently violate a preexisting patent. It will save you from having to recall a product line after having invested heavily in its development. Furthermore, always search logos, brands, and products before going public. Properly draft your contracts, requiring employees to respect third party IP rights and ensuring the code of conduct includes the importance of respecting IP regardless of who owns it. You can never be too meticulous when it comes to not wanting to infringe on IP rights.
When using any material not created by you or your team members, ensure you obtain permission or a license to use the material. Something you may deem inconsequential may still be someone’s registered IP. Imagine the following scenario:
Say you create an original Kickstarter campaign video for crowdfunding your grand invention. You checked the designs, made sure you are in no way violating any preexisting patents, and registered a logo only after running a comprehensive search. You have covered your bases. Yet after launching, your video is removed within the hour for an IP violation! Apparently you used a 10-second sound clip you found online in your video which–surprise surprise–you did not think was important enough to seek permission to use.
The lesson here is to always make sure you check everything (and I mean everything) before sending it out into the public sphere. You will be surprised how many patent trolls are patiently hiding in the bushes, waiting for unsuspecting entrepreneurs and startups like yourself to make a mistake so they can jump out, laugh condescendingly while adjusting their monocles, then throw a fat fine in the guise of a ‘license’ in your face. The consequences of infringing someone else’s IP ranges from the inconvenient (a cease and desist letter) to the exorbitant (a fine or infringement suit). You could always take your chances and defend yourself in an infringement suit but no one is a winner in such situations.
Prevention is better than a cure, and prevention is possible through knowledge. Educate your team members and employees about intellectual property. If holding a class seems cumbersome, prepare a mandatory training video for everyone to watch. It will go a long way to ensure your business runs smoothly with minimal bumps and will reduce your need to micromanage.
Intellectual property infringement is a big deal, so of course we talk a lot about it. Protect your IP from infringement by first identifying it. You can't protect what you don't know you have.