Defining Intellectual Property
The seeds of intellectual property begin as ideas in human beings’ minds. These ideas can lead to inventions – new things – which carry rights for the person who holds them in his/her mind. Those rights may be confirmed as intellectual property by applying for patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.
The Value in Intellectual Property
Inventions bring improvements: reducing physical work, adding pleasure, etc. People value the improvements (changes for the better) brought by inventions…and people are willing to pay (exchange value) to receive the improvements. Inventions led to significant expansion of commerce and the need to create legal rules covering the rights tied to inventions. While the value of intellectual property exists in the ideas that led to the inventions, ownership of that value is subject to legal interpretation. Patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc. can be used to document and protect the value contained in intellectual property.
Ownership of Intellectual Property
Small Step: Identify your intellectual property. Leaders of small businesses must make decisions about intellectual property. For certain small businesses, intellectual property is very limited. For small businesses with large aspirations, intellectual property can be a key success factor. Catalogue all the ideas/inventions that qualify for “rights to intellectual property”.
Small Step: Ensure intellectual property agreements are in place for each staff member. Agreements, including agreements with business partners and owners, must be in place to ensure all individuals who contribute to intellectual property transfer the rights to their ideas for inventions to the business/corporation. Consideration must be exchanged/delivered as payment for the transfer of the intellectual property. In the event that individuals believe they have rights to intellectual property directly or indirectly tied to the corporation’s intellectual property, those rights should be documented in the agreement. The intent is to be clear and leave as little room as possible for confusion about intellectual property rights.
Small Step: Ensure intellectual property agreements are in place with other stakeholders. (As required, seek legal advice.)
Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks
These are complicated concepts. Obtain assistance from lawyers who specialize in these areas of law.