Startup Weekend: Hidden Problem In Plain Sight!
Think for a moment about a startup weekend or inventor pitch event. Can you see it? Highly skilled, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable individuals (companies) come together for a weekend event, skillsets are exchanged, individuals team up, people chat in small circles, “ideas” pop up, great “ideas” take shape, “ideas” are pitched, and one is anointed startup weekend champion – all in 48 hours over a weekend. Hooray! Well, that’s the pitch anyways.
In the high-tech world, it is common to have joint ventures and joint research and development (R&D) teams of highly-skilled, knowledgeable individuals working on impediments to advancing technology. The individuals are employed by different companies, they can be located in different countries, and the only common fluency may be the ones, zeros, formulas, symbols and other technical nomenclature. A solution to the impediment is found, the technology is rolled out, and additional market share is captured with the improved technology. These successful joint ventures and joint R&D projects are possible only after their in-house legal teams have negotiated and executed agreements concerning a host of issues (e.g., taxation, ownership, assignments, transfers, export, choice of law, etc.).
In these joint collaborations, a critical component of the agreement is structuring ownership and authorized use of any intellectual property created. Many would be joint ventures and joint R&D projects fail in these early rounds of negotiations.
The startup weekend or inventor pitch event, is kind of like the joint venture or joint R&D project. There are inherent problems in such joint collaboration, and there are some real concerns that you need to consider before participating, especially if you already have some of your own “ideas”:
1. Who owns the idea? Is it protectable?
2. Who owns the intellectual property?
3. Were there any agreements that were executed prior to the joint collaboration? What did they say? Am I covered? Did I sign it? Is it enforceable?
4. Who will be able to use the intellectual property?
5. What are the terms and conditions for authorized use of that intellectual property?
6. Can another person or team use (or steal) my idea without authorization?
This is not to deter you from participating in the startup weekend type of events. The purpose is to bring awareness to these hidden problems, so that you can protect your “idea” and enjoy the benefits of your intellectual property.
Strategic IP planning measures can be put into place to guard against such problems that would still allow you to participate in the startup weekend or inventor pitch event. But, these measures require advance planning. There are inexpensive ways of preserving your intellectual property rights. For example, filing a provisional patent application using rough sketches, schematics, or photographs, along with a few descriptive paragraphs may be suitable protection – maybe not. The best practice is to consult with an attorney experienced in IP before sharing so that you can have the best chance of success in preserving and protecting your IP. If that is not feasible, check the free resources available from the various government agencies.
Fox Law provides some free information on patents.