Own-it | Intellectual Property Know-How for Creative Businesses


I'm collaborating on a project: how do I safeguard my IP rights?

Published 26.11.09 at 09:46

The creator of a copyright work automatically receives protection of his intellectual property rights in that work under the laws of copyright. Other rights such as patents and registered designs must be registered in order be protected.

In general the creator/designer/inventor of the work will be the first owner of the rights; however, if the work is created by an individual in the ordinary course of his employment, his employer will automatically become the first owner of the rights in that work. For more information on this, see Who owns the IP – the employer or the employee?

When two or more individuals collaborate to create a work protected by IP rights, the rights may vest in them jointly. For the right to be jointly owned, more than one author/inventor/designer must contribute to the work and each individual's contribution must be indistinguishable from the work of the other collaborators.  

If an IP right is jointly owned, it may be necessary to obtain the consent of all co-owners in order to exploit the rights in the work. This is the case for copyright works. On the other hand, each joint owner of a patent is entitled to do for his own benefit anything which would otherwise amount to infringement, without consent of the other owners, but cannot grant licences under the patent or sell his interest to anyone else.  

Issues may also arise as to pre-existing IP which each party contributes to the project.  Disputes frequently arise over whether a collaborator has the right to continue using the other parties' pre-existing IP once the project is complete. 

It is therefore highly advisable to enter into an agreement before work begins on any collaboration. This should expressly set out how the rights in any new work will be owned and can be exploited by each collaborator, and what rights (if any) each party gets over the other's pre-existing work. The party that owns the rights in the project output can formally assign or license them to the other parties to the collaboration. For more information, see How can I profit from my IP?

Content supplied by College of Law students at the Moorgate Centre supervised by Tim Harris of Bird & Bird LLP. Photo credit: Jesse Kruger


Please note that this article discusses the legal position in the UK at the time of publication. It provides general information only but is not to be regarded as legal advice. You must take advice from a specialist lawyer in relation to your specific circumstances. Further, you should seek additional legal advice when dealing with parties based in other parts of the world or works originating from other parts of the world as the legal position may vary.


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