It’s Your Idea… But do you Legally Own it?
Say you’ve come up with this great, new idea for an app. You make the designs, structure how it works and do all your research on how to make it plausible. The only problem is you don’t know how to make apps. You hire an app designer to bring your product to life and all within a short amount of time, your new app is now live.
Copyright law protects you from having the app idea stolen, right? Wrong.
Copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. This means copyright law protects the creator of the app from having it stolen, not the person who generated the idea and paid the creator to make it. While this may be different if the app creator is your employee, it does apply to contractors whom you hire to complete a specific task for you.
Employee v’s contractors
If an employee creates something under direction and in the course of employment for an employer, that work remains the intellectual property of the employer. Problems arise in this situation, however, if an employee argues the work was done in their own time or arguably was not in the course of their employment. The deeming of this will depend on each individual employment situation. If an employee does argue they own the intellectual property rights to something they created under your employment, it would be wise to consult a legal professional.
Copyright problems arise when the creator is not an employee, but a contractor. This is often common with the creation of apps, websites or any other technology-based idea. In this type of situation, the contractor who deals with these situations daily may offer you their standard contract to sign. In this, it is possible to stipulate you would like the legal property rights to the coding created. If this is not already included in the contract, you should request to have it included. It is always recommended you consult legal advice regarding any intellectual property. A lawyer can break down for you your obligations under the contract, who is set to benefit from copyright law and how you can ensure your rights are secure.
Why is owning copyright important?
Not only is having the coding rights to your technology important when wanting to sell the business but you also run the risk of having to pay royalties, damages, an account of profit or have an injunction filed against you by the creator if you are not assigned the rights. The infringement of copyright legislation can impose some very large penalties. This is why it is so important you put an express contract term stating your ownership of coding when hiring someone to perform a technology-based task. If you would like the intellectual property rights to your created product, you must ensure this is made clear in the contract between yourself and the developer. This can be a very complex area and it is always best to consult legal advice if you are unsure of your entitlements.