Take the right steps and bootstrap where you can
To protect some IP you need to take positive steps, but others are automatic.
For example, copyright is automatic in most major countries. As soon as you write some text or draw a drawing, so long as it has some creativity you will own copyright in that from the precise time of writing. You don’t need to do anything except keep good records. Take advantage of this, and make sure you keep records of everything creative so you can rely on copyright in the future.
Trade marks should usually be registered if you want good, strong protection – otherwise you will have to rely on the laws against ‘passing off’, which requires you to already have made prominent use of the brand through strong marketing. Sadly that’s easier to show if you’ve been trading for several years.
If you’re coming up with new inventions, you should think carefully about applying for patents – this is an expensive and detailed process, but provides the strongest possible protection for your technical IP.
Get the rights in writing
Now you know that copyright is free and automatic, this should be a warning sign: what if you’re using content created by someone else?
Normally you will need to come to an agreement with the owner of the IP, to get a license or assignment. This is the case even when using images you find on the internet or on social media – the copyright will belong to someone!
When you’re working with collaborators and freelancers – if someone is designing your brand; if someone is coding for you; if you’ve commissioned a photoshoot – whatever the scenario, if you’ve got content being created for you by someone else, make sure you have the conversation with them about who is going to own the IP. This should be an easy conversation to have in the early stages. If they agree to assign it to you, make sure you get it in writing – preferably signed. If you don’t do this, you may find a few years on that someone else owns the source code to your app, making it impossible to issue an update without paying a ransom.
Open source software: Using others people’s work
In software, it’s likely that you or whoever is coding for you will incorporate some open source elements into any code.
Make sure you know about this, and keep good records. It’s important to respect the contribution of the open source community and abide by the terms of the licence that code is released under. We recommend keeping a record of open source contributions, even if it’s just a plain text note, that you can refer to later.