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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.

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