So you’ve made a website for your ecommerce company, but are looking to make major changes and improvements to it. You decide to work with a top-class software development agency to carry out your ambitious Salesforce Commerce Cloud installation to take your brand to the next level.
It’s easy to assume or expect that because it’s your website, you will own the intellectual property that is built into your website. However, that may not be the case. That’s because it is not always that obvious.
Intellectual property law varies by state, and to make things complicated it depends on what type of IP is involved. For this reason it is vital to clear up what is in your grasp and what is not. Because what you don’t want further down the road are unwanted surprises.
Even before you enter into business with a software development agency, make sure you do your homework. Clarify the ownership and make this crystal clear when it comes to communicating with them, and when it comes to setting out the dev contract.
What exactly is intellectual property?
This umbrella term is used to define a number of protectable and intangible interests. These include patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. They each come with their own particular identities, with laws surrounding them particular to each state.
Depending on which type of intellectual property concerns you, the protections around them will differ in terms of contract. So let’s take a closer look at each one.
If you have a patent, then it was registered with USPTO (These are registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office) — unless it was registered outside of the US. The process is generally long and cost consuming. And while a patent is pending, you will be unable to legally claim it.
If you have a copyright, then it was registered by the US Copyright Office. It enables you to restrict the ability to make copies of your work, as well as replicas. And unlike patents, it comes into existence as soon as an author creates the work. Because copyright laws differ depending on the country, the application of the law will depend on where exactly your business is taking place.
There are three types of trademark, and each one is slightly different. Firstly, a common law trademark is a trademark that is not registered, and is limited to the location where it is in use. If your website is limited to the state level, then you are able to register your trademark there. But if your website operates cross-state or nationally, then it is worth thinking about registering your trademark at the federal level. If you’re an ecommerce business — whether you’re based on WordPress with WooCommerce, or in the big leagues with Salesforce Commerce Cloud — then it’s logical and probable that you’ll be dealing across state boundaries, and so registering a trademark at the federal level is your best option of protection.
Encompassing a wide range of business information, a trade secret is a protectable piece of information that is valuable and unknown by its competitors in the industry. Also, the owner of a trade secret has to ensure its secrecy, which differs from a patent because these are protected publicly.
Back to your web development contract: if you do have trade secrets then it is necessary that you agree in writing to confidentiality agreements and non-disclosures. In this way you’re able to share sensitive information with your software development agency.