The widespread use of the internet by start-up firms is causing many to run into intellectual property difficulties, a business lawyer has claimed.
Queensland-based lawyer Paul Brennan, of Brennan Law, says that there has been a 100% increase over the past year in the number of small businesses approaching his law firm about intellectual property issues.
Brennan says that increased use of the internet has given start-ups more of an awareness of “the value of ideas and creative content.”
“Previously, start-ups were happy to listen to you about intellectual property, but not pay,” he says. “Now, they are paying for this advice, which shows that it’s an area of focus for them.”
“A lot of start-ups can’t afford the documentation to protect themselves and so when they are approached by a larger company that promises to expand the company and franchise it, they are sucked in.”
“They then find that their idea is merged into a larger company and they don’t have protection of their own IP.”
“You need to protect your ideas but also to know which ones are good enough to protect. It’s also not only the things you create but the things that other people create. A lot of people get away with saying ‘I was doing this under license’ so you need to make sure you get that in writing and have terms and conditions, rather than end up spending $5,000 fighting it in court.”
Brennan says that IP disputes usually fall into four main areas – taking client lists when leaving a company to start-up a rival, the ownership and use of brand names, plagiarism and shared ownership of creative work.
According to Brennan, start-ups need to make sure they protect themselves from inadvertent breaches of IP, warning that small firms regularly face legal claims for using other people’s images on their websites.
“Once money is involved, people come out of the woodwork,” he says. “You need to make sure that your IP is yours, you should get everything in writing and get advice.”