Protecting your IP in a co-working space

Protecting your IP in a co-working space

By Tom Lingard & Raveen Sagar

May 31st 2016 at 2:32PM

Stevens & Bolton's Tom Lingard and Raveen Sagar offer advice on how to ensure your game is protected

Co-working is an increasingly popular trend that looks like it’s here to stay. The practice of freelancers and small-business owners working, networking and drinking cold-filtered Americano in a shared environment is becoming ever more prevalent in all types of business.

Whilst co-working space is obviously a useful resource for young companies and entrepreneurs, it’s important to be aware of the risks, particularly when it comes to protecting your creative output. 

Co-working spaces can take many forms, from fully-serviced office suites with shared facilities, to a friendly kitchen table. For most young entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business, keeping costs down is absolutely paramount. Without knowing how successful your business is going to be or how fast it may expand, it’s very difficult – with limited resources – to commit yourself to a 12-month contract by renting a more traditional workspace. Co-working spaces generally offer flexibility and lower costs; you can buy daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly passes which will allow you access to all the facilities available.

Not only are these spaces affordable but they also offer the opportunity to expand your business networks.  More often than not, co-working spaces are occupied by an assortment of tech professionals, all looking to surround themselves with talented and creative people. Several co-working organisations also play host to events to encourage networking and the cross-pollination of ideas.

Moreover, creative thought through collaborative working is also something which appeals to many young entrepreneurs. Invariably, we’ve all had moments at work where we just can’t work out the solution to our problem. With such a high concentration of bright people in one space, you’re much more likely to find an answer in a more efficient manner.

Discussing ideas and bouncing them off other people is a key component of co-working spaces – but this comes with its own issues. 

What are the general problems?

For all its possibilities, there are inevitably difficulties for individuals working in such an environment. Whether co-working is for you or not will usually depend on your working style. For those who are generally quieter and work best in a closed-off area, the energetic discussions surrounding you may just be an irritant rather than something you’re interested in.

Indeed, the lack of privacy may also be an issue. For sensitive discussions which need to take place behind closed doors, co-working spaces are not always ideal. Whilst meeting rooms may be available, they can come at an extra cost and not all spaces will have them. So if you need to be discreet and keep information or ideas confidential, co-working may not be best.

Legal considerations

Since co-working spaces are usually home to budding entrepreneurs and hopeful start-ups, it’s extremely important that, in the midst of creative brainstorming and vibrant discussions, individuals have one eye on their intellectual property rights. Whether it’s deliberate or inadvertent, there’s always a danger of a co-worker overhearing one of your conversations and ‘borrowing’ or claiming ownership in (and a share or profits from) your idea further down the line.

When friendly advice from the person sitting next door inadvertently turns into real creative input, there’s a possibility that they will, at some point, try to claim some sort of proprietorship over the idea. 

Protecting your ideas

There are various intellectual property rights which can apply to creative ideas, including trademarks, design rights and patents. For the gaming industry, the most important of them all is copyright.

Copyright in games covers – amongst other things – code, artwork, images, music, sounds, video and text. In an employment situation, the employer will own the copyright in its employee’s work. This works fine in a traditional working space and thus ideas can be shared freely and without hesitation.

However, in a collaborative working space, where you’re likely to be surrounded by individuals from different companies, you’re unsurprisingly more vulnerable to intellectual property issues. When friendly advice from the person sitting next door inadvertently turns into real creative input, there’s a possibility that they will, at some point, try to claim some sort of proprietorship over the idea.

In a collaborative space, copyright will arise automatically on the creation of the work. Therefore it’s perfectly conceivable that after various contributions to different parts of the game, you find yourself with multiple claims over the copyright.

In order to get around this problem, it’s important to make sure you can establish ownership from the outset. A simple document, detailing the basis on which the work is being done and who owns the intellectual property rights in the ideas, will be extremely helpful in protecting your ultimate creation. If anyone challenges the ownership of intellectual property, you should be able to point to this document which shows an understanding on which the discussions took place and how the ideas were shared. 

Confidentiality

Another aspect to consider when working in a collaborative space and developing your game is to keep sensitive details confidential. If you need to have sensitive discussions then make use of the facilities and book a meeting room.

However, if you’re really intent on chatting about the game with others and just can’t contain your excitement, it’s logical to enter into a non-disclosure agreement, also known as a confidentiality agreement, which will allow you to share your intellectual property with others without putting the information at risk.

Final thoughts

The number of people occupying co-working spaces is only going to increase in the coming years. Co-working offers a more affordable alternative to the traditional office space and harbours creative thought in a vibrant environment.

It is, however, crucial that, in such an expressive work-space, individuals and particularly developers are mindful of the perils of collaborative working and take steps to protect their intellectual property at the earliest opportunity. 

Tom Lingard is head of intellectual property at Stevens & Bolton LLP, while Raveen Sagar is a trainee. You can find out more about the firm's legal services at www.stevens-bolton.com.

Develop recently compiled a list of co-working spaces around the world. Know one that we've missed? Let us know.