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Patents and Copyrights: How to Play By the Rules

Ask the Expert

Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's Ask the Expert column seeks to answer questions about everything from starting a business to growing one. To follow the column on Twitter -- and ask a question -- use hashtag #ENTexpert, or leave a comment below. Your query may be the inspiration for a future column.

Patents and Copyrights: How to Play By the Rules

Editor’s Note: YoungEntrepreneur’s Ask the Expert column seeks to answer questions about everything from starting a business to growth strategies. To follow the column on Twitter -- and ask a question -- use hashtag #YEask, or leave a comment below. Your query may be the inspiration for a future column.

Q: I'm in the beginning stages of starting up a new tech business and want to make sure I’m playing by the rules. What do I need to know about patents and copyrights?
-- James Bowerman
Pasadena, Md.

A: You should always talk to an attorney about specifics, but generally, I find that there are two schools of thought when it comes to patents. I’ve worked with a few entrepreneurs that are very focused on upfront patent protection and analysis. But, most entrepreneurs I come across throw caution to the wind, build what they want to build and deal with the consequences afterwards.

Copyrights, on the other hand, are much more frequently enforced in the early startup stages. I would be highly conservative when thinking through how you reference other people's content. I have seen startups get cease and desist letters when referencing celebrity brands or at times using unauthorized photos for their startup.

Though, there is a history of entrepreneurs launching businesses in the digital space on top of other people's intellectual property, through community-sourced content. Although in the past, these startups bought enough time to get to scale then negotiate their deals, I think this time in history has passed. I caution against the "ask for forgiveness later" theory when it relates to content copyrights.

Submit your questions in the comments section below and those with the most likes from other readers will be answered. On Twitter, use the hashtag #YEask. Please include your first and last name, your location (city and state) and the name of your business in your comment.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Long-time entrepreneur and former CEO of Myspace, Mike Jones now serves as the CEO of Science, Inc., a Los Angeles-based technology studio that nurtures successful digital businesses by bringing together the best ideas, talent, resources and financing through a centralized platform. As a serial internet entrepreneur, Jones has founded, advised, invested in and sold numerous businesses, including application platform Userplane, which he led from startup to its acquisition by AOL, Tsavo Media, Movoxx, PeopleMedia, Brizzly and Myspace. He is actively involved with early-stage startups as an advisor, board member and investor. Among others, Jones has personally invested in more than 30 startup businesses including Klout, Betterworks, Formspring, ShoeDazzle and LunchMoney.

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