This is a guest blog by Mary Juetten, founder & CEO of Traklight, a Phoenix-based software company that provides cost-effective, online IP identification tools and resources that enable inventors, creators, entrepreneurs and small businesses to identify and protect their IP. Mary speaks, consults, and mentors start-ups in the areas of planning, business models, and IP identification and is active in US crowdfunding organizations CFPA and sits on the CFIRA Board.
Intellectual property (IP) needs to be identified before it can be protected but that is not where it stops for crowdfunding. Before launching a crowdfunding campaign or any financing presentation, do your research and look out for others’ IP. The last thing that you wish to do is labor over a campaign only to find you have accidentally infringed on someone else’s intellectual property. Also be sure to note that IP is more than just patents; in more instances than not, campaigns have “borrowed” items and violated copyright or trademark restrictions, effectively infringing on another’s intellectual property. There are three ways that this can happen:
Images, videos, and music are common campaign elements. But do not assume that because a copyright “C,” or ©, is not displayed on an image, that is it fair game. You wouldn’t steal a bike just because it wasn’t locked up! Although copyright notices are not necessary, they are a very good idea and help indicate to others that you have rights to that content. Recently a crowdfunder fell victim to this situation, and received a letter with an eight thousand dollar fine for copyright violation. Raising that money was hard work and it was a shame they lost the money they raised for something that could have been avoided.
Like photographers, musicians track the use of their work. A successful Kickstarter crowdfunder shared a story that he was contacted and thanked by the artist whose song he properly licensed for his campaign. The song cost the successful crowdfunder only about $100 – much less money than the fine that would have been incurred had the crowdfunder not asked proper permission to use the artist’s song.
On the product side of things there is the risk of patent infringement. A 3D printer case had 3D Systems suing Form Labs (the crowdfunder) and the Kickstarter platform over patent infringement. This is the perfect example to show that, as the creator, you must make sure you have the proper permissions and/or licensing to use others’ technology or designs. Patent litigation is very expensive.