Crowdsourcing or a maker – do you need to care about IP?

Published by Sofia Willquist

In recent year’s crowdsourcing, i.e. inviting a community to take part in developing a new product or service has become increasingly popular. The instant feedback from the community allows for a rapid and agile development process, where everyone taking part in the development can feel great pride in the finished product.

Simultaneously a movement called “makers” has grown all over the world, and where so called makerspaces are started in almost every larger city. The makerspaces are often premises where the makers can find the tools they need to create things, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, welding tools etc.

These two movements have a common denominator in that they are based on sharing knowledge and ideas. This goes against the basic rule that we as patent attorneys are trained to think about, that is – keeping your invention secret at least until a patent application has been filed.

Some makers and crowdsourcers might think, it is all out there, we are all sharing information and knowledge among us and therefore IP, such as patents and designs is nothing that we have to care about. That is in fact only partially true.

It is of course difficult to protect the things that created in a crowdsourcing community, but it might still be possible if you think about it before you start the process. It is therefore important that you decide on beforehand if you want to protect the product or not, and stick to that plan, i.e. if you go open from the beginning then stay open.

You must also make sure that you are not infringing someone else’s IP rights, which might be the biggest danger with crowdsourcing and makers. For a maker this is of course only the case if you intend to commercialize the product or service that you are developing.

Also, before you decide on which route to take, and even if your first line of financing is through crowdfunding – keep in mind that many investors may still have a more traditional take on things – and request that there are IP rights in play before they decide to invest in your company.