If we asked you whether you own your intellectual property, your answer most likely would be a swift and unqualified “yes.”

However, it is not uncommon to hear hesitation if we ask more detailed questions. Did you invent your idea while at school or working for your prior employer? Has everyone ever involved with your idea signed an assignment of invention agreement? The wrong answer to either of these questions can be a big problem.

Your school or prior employer could have a claim that they own your IP. If you developed your idea while conducting research for your school, during business hours, or using resources of your prior employer, then there could be potential claims that your idea actually belongs to them. When it comes to university IP policies and company assignment of IP agreements, the language normally favors the university or company… heavily.

Other individuals also could have a claim that they own your IP. If a co-founder, an employee, or a consultant thinks that he or she came up with your idea and has not signed or, for whatever reason, will not sign an assignment of IP agreement, then he or she may have a potential claim of ownership. In this situation, you could find yourself negotiating without much leverage, and relying on the willingness of the other party to be reasonable.

It is never too early to focus on identifying and protecting your IP. If you implement good practices from day one, or address an issue before it becomes a larger problem, you will be well served as your company grows.