Lawyers and Law Firms: Who Owns Your Brand?

I’m not an IP lawyer. I’ve never worked on a copyright issue. But I am a lawyer and a marketer, and although I no longer practice law, I can still spot an issue when I see it. And there’s a big, glaring one lurking for many law firms who are failing to take the steps necessary to protect their brand-related intellectual property.

I raise it because it’s an important issue. We all know that intellectual property rights are an essential element of a law firm’s value and competitive edge. Law firms invest heavily in the creation and promotion of their brands. And in today’s digital and international business world, it’s harder than ever to protect and enforce IP rights.

But there’s a low hanging fruit IP issue (a simple housekeeping issue, really) that is chronically overlooked.

Here’s the problem (at least one of them): Most firms hire outside agencies and/or freelancers to produce trademarkable or copyrightable work for them, such as logos, taglines, websites and copy for digital and print materials. The general rule under the Copyright Act states that the person who creates a work is the author of that work, unless the work is designated as a “work made for hire.” But rarely do firms request that a “work made for hire” arrangement or an “assignment” of all rights and interest in a work be executed.

This means that, in the many instances in which the necessary transfer of IP right doesn’t occur, law firms may not actually own the design and writing that they commission from third parties and are currently displaying on their websites and other marketing materials.

Interested in learning more? I dive deeper into this topic in an article I wrote this week for Attorney at Work. You can access the article by clicking here.