As HR pros, we often get in the rut of shuffling around the IP agreements our companies ask new team members to sign and wonder if it really matters.
As it turns out, it does. Consider current events at two tech companies you might have heard of: Facebook and Hulu. First, more on the Facebook situation and a guy named Paul Ceglia from the Huffington Post:
"New York web designer Paul Ceglia, who has filed a suit against Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, claims he owns an 84% stake in Facebook.
Ceglia asserts that a 2003 contract signed by Ceglia and Zuckerberg awarded Ceglia $1,000 and a 50% stake in the social networking company, along with "an additional 1% interest in the business for every day after Jan. 1, 2004, until it was completed," as compensation for his work designing and developing the site.
Yet as the Wall Street Journal points out, Ceglia's claim to 84% of the still privately-held company, valued at between $12billion and $22 billion, predates the actual formation of Facebook: "Zuckerberg built a predecessor to Facebook called Facemash in October and November 2003, but Mr. Zuckerberg didn't register the domain thefacebook.com until January 2004."
Ceglia won a restraining order that blocks both Facebook and its CEO from "from transferring, selling, assigning any assets, stocks, bonds, owned, possessed and/or controlled by the defendants" until the case is heard, which should be around July 9"
Next up, consider the case of Errol Hula, who claims Hulu stole his idea in launching their poplular video site:
"Errol Hula, founder of technology company Hulavision, sued media giant NBC Universal and the Hulu joint venture four months ago, saying Hula shared trade secrets and a business plan with an NBC executive in 2006. The following year, NBC Universal announced plans to team up with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to create a website, which blossomed into a venture named Hulu that now is the second-most-popular video website, behind Google Inc.'s YouTube.
But before Hula would relay the information to NBC, in an effort "to explore the possibility of a business arrangement," Hula required that Vergel de Dios sign a nondisclosure agreement. A contract was struck in May 2006, and Hula provided NBC with an 18-page PowerPoint presentation which described his strategic plans, marketing strategy and technology.
"At no time did Mr. Vergel de Dios inform Hula of any potential plans NBC had of its own for the development of any project similar to Hula's or that it had any interest other than possibly to form a business relationship with Hula," the lawsuit said. The two men discussed the plans for several weeks. Then, according to the suit, in June 2006, Vergel de Dios stopped returning Hula's calls."
Interesting name Hulu choose for the site. Hulu, Hula.... hmmm... That's not going to help the case...
Regardless of what you think about the merits of these cases, both prove that ownership of ideas is a big deal.
Get the IP agreements signed. Pronto.