Too often, startups make mistakes with their company’s intellectual property (IP) that could have been easily avoided. You can read the first part of the series here.
Failing to Register Your IP
Worse than the sin of ignorance is the sin of omission. The early stages of a business are a flurry of activity, often taken on entirely by one person, and considering your company’s IP and how to protect it seems another thankless task on your already overfilled plate. But filing for the necessary trademarks and copyrights and patents will help ensure that the work you’re doing isn’t in vain by protecting your creations from being stolen and profited from by others. Seeking out an attorney to help with the filings can be a greater expenditure than you might want to make, but it will help ease your burden and ensure the work is done correctly.
Inadvertently Stealing Others’ IP
For as vigilant as you are about your work and protecting it, you can be sure that other creators are just as watchful when it comes to their own pictures, logos and photos. And if you aren’t careful, you could find yourself infringing upon someone else's work without consciously doing so. Whether it is a misunderstanding of IP rights or a misbegotten belief that it ultimately won’t be found out, too many people take liberties with the works of others, only to find out too late of their mistake. When possible, use your own material for your marketing and website, and if you do have to rely on others’ work, make sure that you are properly licensing it and understanding the rights granted in that licensing.
Not Reading Licensing Agreements
We are all guilty of skimming or outright skipping licensing agreements for products or services we use in our personal lives; they’re long and filled with legalese that most of us don’t understand and think will never apply to us anyway. But when it comes to your business, those agreements can have big implications if you are signing away rights without your knowledge. Tedious as it may be, taking the time to sit down and go through the licensing agreements can help prevent you from making a basic mistake that could harm your business down the line. If there are things you’re unsure about, consulting an attorney is a good option.
Ignoring the DCMA
Whatever the product or service you are selling, you have to be sure that you are respecting the IP rights of other companies and creators. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, "criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself." While your business may be in the clear, there are numerous examples of products or services that offer the ability to work around DRM to grant you access to copyrighted materials for free or a fraction of the original price. Be aware both of what your own products do and any potential infringement, as well as what exists out there that might infringe upon your own work.
Lack of Confidentiality and Invention Assignment Agreements
You might not think of your work as rising to the level of government secrets, but the things you are working on would undoubtedly be of interest to others in your field who might wish to copy what you’ve created for their own purposes. That information could potentially walk out the door with as employees or contractors leave your company. Similarly, those who work on inventions for your company and later leave can create issues as it relates to ownership of the IP for that invention. Establishing agreements for confidentiality and the assignment of invention rights to the company and having all employees, contractors, and co-founders sign them can forestall these potential problems.