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David Toback, Attorney at Law
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Be Careful of Misappropriation of Your Ideas or Property

Many of us don’t think we will have any issues with intellectual property (IP)—generally, copyright, trademark, or patent disputes. But what we often forget is that something as simple as an idea or concept often has some IP value. We tend to throw ideas, or information around all the time, without concern over who hears them, or who takes them from us.

When Information Is Disclosed

There are a varied amount of situations where we may have to show ideas, concepts or information that are secret, or have value, to others. Some examples could be:

  • Pitching your business idea to investors or other businesses;
  • Providing documents related to your business to others to review for potential business deal, partnership, or joint venture; or
  • Pitching ideas including designs or drawings or artistic concepts to others to gauge potential interest; for example, a t-shirt artist showing idea to a retail store for potential sale.

In any of these situations, we assume that the person we’re giving our idea to is using them for the purpose we intend. But what happens when they don’t? What happens, for example, when the business deal falls through, but the other side then takes your ideas that you pitched during negotiations and uses them for themselves for profit?

Misappropriation Claims

This is why all businesses need to be aware of misappropriation. Generally, when a person uses an idea or information of another for a purpose other than what was intended (and often, for that business’ own profit), there could be a claim for misappropriation.

We see this all the time in the news. For example just recently, someone sued Disney, alleging that Disney stole their idea for the character Wreck-It-Ralph (although there, the plaintiff apparently alleges that it had a copyright on the character). More infamous is the dispute over Facebook, which was the subject of the movie The Social Network, involving a lawsuit by college students alleging that Facebook was actually their idea.

Note that in the Facebook case, and many others like it, there may not have been an actual registration of an idea or character with government IP offices. But that doesn’t mean the ideas or property is public domain, and can be used at will.

Protecting Information

If you have to disclose information that you’re concerned could be misappropriated, it’s a good idea to have agreements that dictate the secrecy and use of information and ideas that you are presenting. Non-disclosure agreements can be used.

And of course, if something can be registered as IP with the government, it should—although even information that is not eligible for such registration, can still be protected by private agreements, which dictate restrictions on the use and dissemination of information that you are disclosing to others.

Make sure your property is safe if you’re involved in a potential business deal. Contact Tampa business attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and discuss how to make sure that you’re proceeding with caution and not giving away valuable idea or property.

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