I know I am probably a bit late with this reference, but The Social Network, while being a great film, really helped to reveal the gritty underbelly of being an entrepreneur of a tech start-up. Everyone wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but no one wants to be sued for infringing on intellectual property rights. While you may not be able to get to a million friends without making a few enemies, you don’t want those enemies coming after you in civil court, demanding a percentage of your profits.
As the tech-boom has grown, then died, then rose from the ashes, the rise of intellectual property has been an interesting one. Google Labs shows that it wasn’t until the early-1990s that the actual words “Intellectual Property” began to appear in books and other documents. However, the idea of protecting… well, an idea, goes back way before the advent of technology. If you told your buddy of an idea for a great invention, and he blatantly stole it, you would probably argue in court that the idea for his product was rooted in your idea. You don’t need a computer to get your idea stolen. But tech start-ups are a new type of beast; most of you reading this have probably tossed ideas around over drinks with a group of friends. The generation of entrepreneurs who are founding most of the new tech companies do not have the same beliefs regarding the protection of ideas as previous business owners. I doubt anyone has woken up in a cold sweat, frantically searching for their phone to call their group of friends, demanding that they promise to not steal the two or three pitches that came up which you particularly liked.
But, at the same time, the demand for intellectual property has grown. Just look around Silicon Valley; there are plenty of lawyers specializing in copyright/patent law, particularly in regards to new technology. It is hard, once the words escape your lips, to prove that the idea was yours originally, hence the growing market for people whose sole job is to prove exactly that. And their existence does show that the demand is there for professionals who will work to protect an idea and its eventual implementation. I have no doubt that this will continue to be the case, considering the substantial amount of money that can be made with a tech start up; low overhead and a high profit margin has a way of attracting people looking to make it big.
Interestingly, there is also some talk about releasing ideas as public goods, rather than private entities. The Wikimedia foundation, while keeping a hold on their trademark Wikipedia, tries to espouse this concept. Everyone trying to help out their fellow man with the collective knowledge of thousands of human beings, brought together by the Internet; beautiful, romantic, and the assurance that user information won’t be sold to advertisers á la Facebook. The rise of piracy and companies founded along the same line of thinking as Wikipedia poses an interesting challenge to foundation of intellectual property and the opinion that you can own an idea.
Most entrepreneurs will, understandably, probably follow the route that will make them money, which means IP lawyers will have plenty of work for years to come. But I am amazed at how well Wikipedia has done, and the fact that many younger entrepreneurs are of the opinion that the Wiki model, rather than the Facebook model, is the way to go. Of course, Wikipedia is a protected property, despite its non-profit status. Nevertheless, I will be interested to see if communal beliefs will end up stretching into the realm of intellectual property, and how well it will do there. The Internet user is fickle, and the warm-fuzzy feelings of supporting a communal service may outweigh the benefits of using a, likely better developed, but privately owned, competitor.
As CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, Inc. (“MyCorporation.com”), Deborah Sweeney is an advocate for protecting personal and business assets for all consumers. With her experience in the field of corporate and intellectual property law, Deborah can provide insightful commentary on the benefits, barriers and who should consider incorporation and trademark registration. She also has extensive experience in the start-up and entrepreneurial industry, as she has been involved in the formation of hundreds of thousands of MyCorporation.com’s customers.
Ms. Sweeney joined MyCorporation in 2003 after serving as outside general counsel for 5 years. She received her Juris Doctor and Masters in Business Administration degrees from Pepperdine University and is a member of the American Bar Association.
Deborah has served as an adjunct professor at the University of West Los Angeles and San Fernando School of Law in the area of corporate and intellectual property law. Because of her extensive knowledge, Sweeney has long served as a speaker and panelist on legal issues affecting new to the world and growing businesses.