Who Owns Intellectual Property on a Team?

Sometimes the best work is done when a strong team comes together. Maybe you or your business brings in consultants to work on a project. Maybe two nonprofits are working together on ways to help the community.

We’ve all worked in groups since grade school, but who gets the credit for professional work at the end of the day? It can be complicated when it comes to intellectual property generated through collaboration. The ultimate answer boils down to getting it all in writing.

Consultants and Independent Contractors

Your business is thriving, but some of your work needs to be outsourced. This leads you to work with consultants or independent contractors to move projects along. This is a common practice, but you will need to establish strict guidelines on what the work is for and who owns it.

The quick answer is if someone outside your organization who isn’t a direct employee does work for you, that individual generally owns the work even when it is within the scope of the project. This can create problems, because if the outside individual(s) go to the courts to establish ownership they may actually be able to remove the work from your organization entirely, despite being brought in to do the work for you. However, there are steps you can take to ensure the work belongs to you and your company.

While verbal and digital communication CAN be upheld in court, you should get it in writing. You and the contractor or consultant should establish a contract with agreeable terms that outline who owns the work at the end of the project.

Nonprofits Work Together

Two organizations working together is a much more straightforward process when defining ownership of intellectual property, but this can actually cause more headaches than working with consultants or contractors. Ownership will be split by default in these cases, but co-ownership of intellectual property can create challenges for each party.

For example: if two nonprofits work together and haven’t explicitly outlined future use of the intellectual property, one party may end up disapproving of the manner in which the property is used by the other. The disputing party generally will not have any legal recourse against the use because the use was never defined.

Again, get it in writing! If one organization should be the sole owner of the end product, make sure there is an agreement signed and filed before problems arise. Co-ownership of intellectual property isn’t the most ideal situation, but if your organizations agree to it then all involved parties should establish intended use in the future. In the example above, an agreement like this gives legal recourse to the disputing party.

Protect Your Work

If your employee is doing work for you, the contracts they signed during the onboarding process solidify their work as being owned by the company. That part is simple, but if you’re bringing on outsiders to work for your company, it’s important to know not only your rights but theirs too.

If you need help navigating or protecting intellectual property for your business, contact the Law Office of Ray Garcia today and we’ll provide you with legal solutions that provide the answers you need to keep the business moving forward.

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Law Office of Ray Garcia, P.A.

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