“What do you mean, do I own what I’m selling?”

19th January 2023

Most tech companies are IP-rich. The value in what they sell comes from the brainpower that went into developing it. As a business, it is therefore vital to ensure that you own that know-how. Nothing puts off potential customers and investors more than the possibility that you don’t own what you are selling.

Top tips for IP ownership:

  • Think about how you hire – using consultants to develop your product can be cost-effective and fast. But consultants are assumed to own their own IP. You must ensure that robust contracts properly assign the IP in the work product to you as the client
  • Follow the contact trail – if your contractor works through a company, you need to follow the whole ownership trail. Your contract with the consultancy company is only one step in that process. You also need to check the contract the consultant has signed with their company
  • Ensure that you have good employment contracts – for an employee, the law will broadly assume you own the IP in what they do at work. But a good contract can give additional rights, and importantly give you a right to fill out a lot of relevant paperwork to safeguard those rights
  • Keep good records – when an investor asks, you want to be able to clearly state who developed what, when, and what their status was
  • Think about Open Source Software – where a developer has incorporated Open Source Software into what they do, ensure you have taken legal advice on what that means for publicising and utilising the end product
  • Where are your staff? Different jurisdictions around the world take different approaches to IP ownership. Resist the temptation to have one UK (or US) template that you roll out to everyone, wherever they are. The best protection will come from documents tailored to where your employees and consultants are based.

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