Intellectual Property (IP) ownership refers to the ownership of concepts and ideas. However, you must note that it isn’t as easy to define and describe IP ownership as it is to define and describe the ownership of tangible property items.
IP isn’t physical property, called tangible assets, such as some computer equipment or an office. Instead, IP is the collection of the unique creations of the human mind, such as literary and artistic works, inventions, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce, etc.
The exclusive rights and ownership associated with a property are typically straightforward. Generally, owning a specific type of property includes the right to do the following:
- Possess it;
- Enjoy it;
- Sell it; and
- Prevent others from using it.
Laws concerning IP ownership and the control that individuals have over their assets generally involve questions arising from disputed or shared ownership. Usually, there is a little question or doubt over ownership when we talk about a physical object or real estate project. When it comes to IP, the aspect of ownership isn’t easily defined and crystallized. The prime issue in this scenario is that IP is intangible; it isn’t physical in nature, i.e., you can’t touch it, hold it, or describe it using physical boundaries. Instead, IP ownership relates to the interest that someone holds in the unique creations of the mind. Owning IP implies owning a concept or an idea instead of a physical object. While IP is intangible, you can sell it or otherwise convey it like real property.
Understanding Who Owns IP
Usually, the individual who comes up with a concept or an idea, which is the subject of IP, is its owner. However, kindly note that it is possible to transfer or release the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) through the following means:
- Passage of time
- Operation of law
When an individual owns IPRs, it enables him to exclude others from using the ideas or concepts that make up his IP asset. The governing laws and the type of IP asset involved determine how far-reaching such rights are; for instance – the exclusive rights may be limited to preventing some other individual or entity from using the IP asset for commercial gains.
It is imperative to make a point and understand that a business company doesn’t necessarily own the IP assets because it usually pays for the unique works to be created. Legal positions vary depending upon the creator of the work. The following categories of individuals may be involved in IP development and ownership in a business company:
- Founders of a Company – In most circumstances, the founders create, register, and establish their IPRs before incorporating their company. For instance, they may register their domain names, set up brand names, formulate algorithms, and create a website, to name a few. In the scenarios where founders create an IP asset before the incorporation of their company, it is they who own the IP assets and not the company. Usually, founders don’t sign employment or consultancy agreements for their services with the company. Consequently, the IP assets that founders create as part of their services after the company’s incorporation won’t be owned by the company.
- Employees of a Company – The IP assets created by a company’s employees are owned by the company. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that such IP assets must be created by employees during their employment term with the company. Employment agreements and contracts should always specify crystal clear provisions concerning company ownership.
- Independent Contractors or Consultants – Unless a written agreement exists that transfers IP ownership, consultants generally always hold the IP ownership rights to what they create. Since it is exceedingly common for business companies to hire consultants and independent contractors, both parties are generally aware of the dire need to enter into a written agreement to transfer ownership rights if such an agreement doesn’t already exist.
- Third-Parties – Startup businesses and early-stage companies quite often work with third-party companies to develop their offerings, i.e., products or services; for example, startups may enter into a contract with web developers, product design specialists, or software development providers. Although the said company pays for the services, the third party holds the IPRs, unless the two sides enter an agreement stating otherwise.
Just because IP assets are intangible doesn’t imply that they possess no value or can’t be owned. In the area of IP, ideas and concepts can undoubtedly be exceedingly valuable.
If you have an IP asset and wish to extract benefits from it, it is essential for you to safeguard the corresponding IPRs. A legal IP professional expert can help you safeguard your IP assets.
If you need help with IP ownership, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!