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It can be a tricky balance to protect your intellectual property (IP) in a co-working space. This is because you may be required to work near others with whom you do not wish to share your confidential information and ideas. Additionally, you will be collaborating with your co-workers. So, where do you draw the line when it comes to sharing and guarding your ideas? This article will provide five tips for protecting IP in a co-working space. It will also help you determine the IP you should be sharing and how to keep it to yourself if you do not wish to share. 

1. Recognise the Importance of Keeping IP Secret

Confidential information can refer to many different kinds of information and can include your IP in relevant circumstances. The law has default protections for information that is confidential, which you can rely on if the information was:

  • confidential;
  • obtained in a way that implies a degree of confidentiality; and
  • used in an unauthorised manner.

The second point is important for co-working spaces, as sharing confidential information in these spaces where anyone can hear may undermine this requirement.

There are some IP rights in New Zealand that require you to keep your material unpublished before you register it. These requirements will make certain kinds of IP information confidential.

For example, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) will reject a patent application if the invention idea is already in the public domain. If the patent is already public knowledge, then it cannot be considered new or novel and meet the registration process requirements. 

For this reason, you should keep your new ideas and developing IP private from your colleagues in your co-working space. Additionally, you should reflect this desire for confidentiality in:

  • registering IP rights; and
  • establishing contractual obligations that protect confidentiality.

2. Implement Practices to Protect Your Confidential IP in Co-Working Spaces

It is important that all members of your business, ranging from upper management to employees, do their part to protect your business’ confidential IP information. Monitoring how they use and share your IP in a co-working space is a part of that.

Therefore, if you are likely to share confidential IP information, perhaps hire a private room where available. Other practical behaviours to implement can include:

  • not discussing confidential IP information where third parties can overhear;
  • keeping track of any documentation with confidential information and not leaving them in the open for anyone to see;
  • password protecting laptops/tablets, and not leaving them unattended;
  • clearly marking any confidential information as such; and
  • checking the terms and conditions of the co-working space to see if they impose any confidentiality obligations on those who use their offices. If so, you may be able to rely on this in a dispute.

3. Drafting Effective Contractual Provisions Regarding Confidentiality

When in a co-working space, you want to make sure you reduce the chances of unintended third parties getting a hold of your confidential IP information. However, you should also make sure you clearly set confidentiality obligations for partners with whom you intentionally share this information. Having clear contractual provisions detailing these confidentiality obligations will:

  • bind intended partners when sharing IP information; and
  • provide evidence if you need to prove that particular IP should remain confidential.

For example, a licence agreement can impact whether you can share your IP with those in your co-working space. You may be able to point to a licence agreement to show that your information or material is confidential. Confidentiality will mean that those working around you will not be allowed access to your work.

4. Being Careful With Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are an IP right that constitutes information of commercial value to your business that you do not wish to be made public. Trade secrets can be:

  • formulas;
  • recipes;
  • information; and 
  • methods or processes.

Trade secrets cannot be registered but instead rely on remaining confidential for protection. So, the best way to protect them is with a contract. You can enter into a confidentiality agreement with other parties or add a non-disclosure clause into any other agreement you may have with them. 

Aside from these contractual agreements, the best way to ensure a trade secret is to be:

  • selective of who you share your IP information and material with; and 
  • clear with those who you do share with about the confidentiality nature. 

Therefore, you want to ensure that you do not discuss or share trade secrets in a co-working space where you cannot control who receives that information.

5. Register and Identify Important IP

Registered IP rights give you proven legal protections if someone uses that IP without your permission. This will mean that you can defend your IP if a third party from a co-working space steals it. Additionally, others are more likely to know that your IP is yours. 

IP rights in New Zealand include:

  • trade marks;
  • patents;
  • designs;
  • copyright;
  • plant variety rights;
  • geographical locations; and 
  • Māori IP.

IPONZ deals with all of these rights. As a result, you can register all of these rights with IPONZ, except for copyright, which applies automatically. 

Notably, you can inform others of your IP rights by using various symbols. For example, you can label trade marks with the ™ symbol if unregistered or the ® symbol if registered. Likewise, you can label copyright with the © symbol if valid. 

Key Takeaways

Working in a co-working space can save on costs, but you lose some privacy when you do so. Therefore, to keep confidential IP information safe, you can use various contracts with confidentiality protections and only share IP where it is safe. You should also register important IP where possible. If you need further assistance with your IP, LegalVision’s IP lawyers can help. Call us on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I enforce my rights if a co-worker infringes on my intellectual property?

Yes, you can enforce your intellectual property rights if somebody infringes them. However, the standard to which you can do this will depend on how strong your IP right is. It is best to seek legal advice.

If copyright is not registerable, how is it recognised?

Copyright applies automatically to work you create. If you want to indicate this to others, you can label your copyright material with the © symbol.

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