In Defense of Ideas

Intellectual assets are some of the most valuable assets a company owns. Every company has some intellectual asset into which company time, money and resources were invested. As with any valued asset, there should be a record made so the company knows what new ideas and intellectual property it owns and how they are being used. This is true whether the company elects to formally register their intellectual property or not.

Make no mistake, the tracking and documenting of new ideas and intellectual property by a company is not simply for the purpose of building the company’s intrinsic value or suing its competition. Every year, companies are accused of infringing patents, trademarks and copyrights based on work the company created long before the accuser filed for intellectual property rights. The response by the accused is, of course, “Hey, I did that first!” But without proper documentation to prove the original creation, the original creator loses out in a big way.

What many companies do not understand is that the tracking documentation needed is simple when done correctly and does not add any measurable cost to a new project. Additionally, taking appropriate steps during each new project to document the right information can significantly reduce the company’s future frustrations, stress and legal bills.

Here are a few suggestions for tracking your intellectual property in a way that protects your company against frivolous attacks.

· Common Location and Plan: Identify a common location for intellectual asset records, such as a binder, and keep all of the information relating to the asset there. Having a common location with a plan for what to collect and how to organize it makes your job of tracking and documenting much easier and significantly reduces the chances of losing or missing important information.

Insight: Many companies are under the false belief that information can be gathered if and when they are ever accused. But the reality is that much of the important information gets thrown away during occasional cleanings or was never saved to begin with.

· Ownership and Creation Records: One key to reducing future conflicts is to document your company’s ownership of the intellectual asset you create. Through your system for tracking and documenting the asset, keep a record of how and when the intellectual asset was created, who participated in its creation, and any assignment documents that are needed to confirm company ownership.

Insight: Documenting ownership and creation helps the company show that the asset was not taken from someone else and, depending on the type of work, that the company has a right to use it. Each type of intellectual asset (invention, idea, software, graphic, marketing project, trademark, etc.) requires different types of information to be collected, so become familiar with what is best for each type of asset.

· Origin Support: In some cases, the work that is created is completely new and that fact should be indicated in the records. However, in most cases the project participants rely upon and even incorporate components of earlier works into a current project. This is both more efficient and less costly. Documenting (preferably with copies) what material was relied upon and what was incorporated into a project in whole or in part provides at least two relevant benefits. First, it helps the company ensure that it has rights to whatever it is producing (and has not incorporated material that belongs to someone else). And second, that evidence can be used to show the creative process and confirm that there was no improper copying or that the company was entitled to copy something in the public domain.

Insight: By the time someone accuses your company of infringement, the original project participants may be gone from the company or may have forgotten how the work was created. Appropriate record keeping can literally save hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending against an infringement suit.

· Use Evidence: Any publication or use of the intellectual asset or its parts should also be tracked and documented. Even if you do not intend to file for formal protection of an intellectual asset, documenting publication and use of a valued asset can help to show when you first established your public ownership of the asset or placed the asset into the public domain.

Insight: Through appropriate tracking and documenting of valued intellectual assets, not only can a company realize additional value from the asset, but the company can also significantly reduce the extent of future expenses and hassle relating to false infringement claims. Have a plan, establish an intellectual strategy for your company, understand the nature of your company’s intellectual assets, and enjoy the security of knowing you can prove the assets are yours.