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Intellectual property rights refer to the legal right you have to own your ideas as your own property. For your business, your ideas can add value to your enterprise, so it is worth protecting them. Once you have these intellectual property rights, you can sell or licence them for a profit as well. When you create new intellectual property, in most cases, you are the owner because you created the property. However, there are some instances where this may not be the case. As a consultant, you can create new ideas and documents for your clients, and this can lead to situations where there is confusion around who owns those new ideas and documents (the intellectual property). This article will explain whether you own the intellectual property over your work for some guidance.

What Intellectual Property Do I Own?

There are many different kinds of intellectual property, and who owns it will depend on what kind it is and how you have dealt with it. There are generally three ways of determining intellectual property ownership:

  • having a registered exclusive intellectual property right to the property;
  • having an inherent copyright that begins as soon as you create a work; or
  • establishing it through context and facts.

For example, say you have an unregistered trade mark. You can establish your ownership over that intellectual property by proving you have sufficiently established yourself in the market under that trade mark.

Registered Intellectual Property Rights

If you have a registered intellectual property right, then it is much clearer that you have ownership rights over your intellectual property, particularly if you have to go to court. Possible registrable intellectual property rights include:

  • registered trade marks;
  • designs;
  • patents;
  • plant varieties; and
  • geographical indications.

Copyright

Copyright is another kind of intellectual property right that you automatically receive once you create an original work. It can apply to:

  • literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works;
  • communication works;
  • sound recordings;
  • films; and
  • typographical arrangements of public editions.

Note that literary works also include computer programs and tables/compilations. Once you have intellectual property rights, you can assign or licence them as you wish.

Intellectual Property in Employment

There are some exceptions to the circumstances above. When you create intellectual property in ‘the course of employment’, you generally do not get immediate ownership rights. Instead, your employer does. You create intellectual property to fulfil your job and meet your obligations as an employee.

So, if someone employs you as an in-house consultant to create intellectual property for them, then they will own the copyright of whatever you create. Some examples of such things may include:

  • guides for client businesses;
  • contracts;
  • business procedures and processes;
  • trade secrets;
  • reports; or
  • data analysis content.

Usually, whatever contractual arrangement you come to with a client will detail the exact nature of your relationship, if it is an employment one. When your job is to create intellectual property, it should set out the breakdown of ownership in that contract.

Commissioning Intellectual Property

Another exception to automatic copyright is the commissioning rule. As a consultant, a client may commission you to create something for their business, such as a bespoke computer program. When someone commissions you, you create an original work for your client based on their instructions for a fee or other reward. The work that you create is not your property but the intellectual property of your client first. They have to commission you before you create the content for this rule to apply.

For any literary or other creative work, you still have the moral rights as an author, depending on the kind of work it is. You have the right: 

  • for people to know you are the original creator;
  • to object to any derogatory treatment of your work; and
  • to not have people falsely credit you as being the author/creator of the work.

Licensing Your Intellectual Property

A part of your consulting services may be to offer your intellectual property as part of a package for your clients. For example, you may offer a data software package to manage their systems. You can do this and still retain your intellectual property ownership rights. If you (the licensor) license your intellectual property to a client (the licensee), they have permission to use it following the rules of the contract you set. They may also pay you royalties for the use of your intellectual property. If you want to sell your ownership rights completely, you can do this with an assignment.

Key Takeaways

As a consultant, you may create intellectual property for your clients, such as reports or computer software. If you create this intellectual property either as part of an employment relationship or your client commissions you, then you do not get the automatic copyright to these works. Instead, your client does. However, you still retain moral rights. You can also assign or licence your ownership of your intellectual property to make a profit. If you would like more information or help with your intellectual property ownership as a consultant, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I protect my intellectual property as a consultant?

You can protect your intellectual property by registering or implementing contractual protections in your contracts with your clients. For example, for any inventions you use to help your clients, patent protection may be useful.

What intellectual property assets do I own as a consultant?

Intellectual property refers to your ideas or expressions of the mind. So, depending on your business, your assets can be quite varied. For example, any software you create for your clients could be an intellectual property asset.

What is an assignment?

When related to intellectual property, an assignment is when you assign (or sell) your ownership rights to another party.

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