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. Let’s look at some situations you should consider.

Joint Works:  Using Consultants and Contractors

Your business is thriving, but you need to outsource some work.  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 that the consultant or contractor generally owns the work – even when it is within the scope of the project – unless the agreement says otherwise.  

This creates legal headaches.  If the consultant or contractor claims ownership, they may be able to limit your ability to use the work (that you paid for) for other purposes.

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.

Joint Works:  Collaborating with Other Nonprofits

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.

Co-ownership of intellectual property creates challenges for each party.  Without a written agreement, the intellectual property belongs to the party creating the work.  Sometimes ownership is straightforward: each party created a distinct part of the work that can be separate from the whole.  Other times, the work is a combination of two parties’ work and no one part can be separated from the other.  

For example: two nonprofits work together but did not explicitly outline future use of the intellectual property.  One party may end up disagreeing with the manner in which the other party uses the property.  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, use a written agreement to make ownership clear.

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.

So, Who Owns the Intellectual Property of Joint Works?

  1. Generally (but not always), the employer owns the intellectual property of the employee. 
  2. The owner of works created by a third-party (such as a consultant) depends on your written contract.  Absent a written agreement, the consultant will own the intellectual property it produces. 
  3. If you collaborate with another organization, each party owns the intellectual property they create unless a written agreement states otherwise. 

If you need to know what work to protect or how to do it, contact Concerto Law today.  We’ll provide you with legal solutions that break through the noise!