Developing contracts to govern intellectual property concerns is a form of insurance. If you never have any problems related to your IP, it never matters whether or not you have any contracts in place. However, if an IP issue does arise, suddenly your IP contracts can become very important. The mere existence of the contract may be able to resolve the issue that occurs, preventing litigation, and potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars.
When paying somebody to create a work of art for you, you may assume that you own all intellectual property related to that work of art. This is not necessarily the case. However, with an appropriate contract in place, the artist may assign all IP to the purchaser. Perhaps even more surprising is that, when paying somebody to create custom software, it is not a given that the purchaser will acquire all intellectual property rights to the code that is created. Without a contract in place before the work occurs, it can be difficult, that is, expensive, to determine who owns what.
And these problems do not just occur on the side of the purchaser. If you have a job, which requires you to create things, there may come a time when you would like to reuse your creation to earn a little extra income. Without a solid intellectual property agreement in place, it may be difficult to determine whether or not you are within your rights to exploit your initial creation.
In the absence of well-drafted, carefully thought out contracts specifying intellectual property rights, individuals may be left with two options. They may choose to play it safe and not exercise intellectual property rights that they may actually own. Alternatively, they may risk infringement by exercising rights that may not belong to them. Neither of these options is desirable. An investment in securing, or at least understanding, intellectual property rights at the beginning of a relationship, or before problems develop, is often a good long term strategy.
Kelly G. Swartz is an intellectual property attorney in Melbourne, FL focusing her practice on patents, trademarks, and copyrights.