How to Avoid Unintentional Intellectual Property Infringement in Minnesota

As a small business owner, the last thing you want is to face legal trouble for unknowingly infringing on someone else’s intellectual property . If someone accuses you of infringing their copyright, trademark, or patent, you’ll probably have to devote a lot of time, stress, and money into resolving the issue. There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your business from accusations of IP infringement.

Contracts Should Address IP Ownership and Use

One of the most common ways a small business can unknowingly violate another party’s intellectual property rights is by using works that do not belong to the business. For example, if you hire a contractor or other third party to create a graphic, website, logo, or similar work for your business, you don’t necessarily or automatically own the final product. . You may have heard the term “work for hire” and figured it means that if you hire someone to create something, you automatically own it. That isn’t how it works, though. The “work made for hire” rules are pretty narrow and don’t apply to most situations. Instead, you’ll need to include specific language in your contract that details how the creator will transfer their ownership rights to your business. Without these explicit instructions, the creator could decide to use the work they created for your business for other clients or in other projects. They might even be able to restrict your use of the work. You can reduce the likelihood of such issues by making sure your contracts clearly define the transfer of ownership rights.

Educating New Employees About Trade Secrets

Many companies have trade secrets or proprietary information, such as formulas, recipes, programs, data, or systems that they need to keep confidential in order to remain competitive. However, any time an employee leaves your business or a new employee is hired presents opportunities for trade secret violations. While you likely have protections in place to ensure that former employees do not share your company’s trade secrets, are you making sure to explicitly tell new hires that they cannot use trade secrets or intellectual property from their former employers? You may wish to consider putting such directions in writing, perhaps in the employment agreement, to ensure that new employees do not jeopardize the success of your business by opening you up to accusations of intellectual property infringement.

Follow Best Practices When Using Third-Party Content

To reduce the chances that you will violate someone else’s IP rights, be sure to create original images or music when advertising your business. Keep in mind that just because you can find and download something — an image, a song, a video clip — from the internet doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use it. If you don’t have permission in writing, it’s probably infringement. The unauthorized use of popular songs or images can lead to legal troubles, so use in-house staff or contractors to create these for you, and make sure ownership rights are covered by your contracts with freelancers. You might also use royalty-free media, such as stock photos and other media that are available to the public. Just make sure to check the terms of use — it’s common for sites to limit the use of their images or songs to non-commercial uses. Should you wish to use copyrighted material, go through the formal process of obtaining the appropriate licenses and clear written consent from the owners of the content you wish to use.

Interested in learning more about how to protect your Minneapolis or St. Paul business from accidental IP infringement? Call the friendly IP and business law attorneys at Rubric Legal today at (612) 465-0074 today to get started.

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