Creativity. Innovation. These aren't adjectives that are typically applied to lawyers, and for good reason: we're not Picassos, Hemmingways, or even code wizards like ten-years-ago Zuckerberg.
But in-house lawyers are involved in innovation: you can invent the next big thing, but if the IP isn't protected, it'll only be valuable until a bigger, stronger company steals the idea. You can build the next great product, until your team flees for a different company. You can challenge the status quo -- until a regulatory war grinds your progress to a halt.
Corporate counselors may not be the artists, but they make the artists' work possible, and profitable, in these three ways:
Protect Intellectual Property
This one is may seem obvious, at least to us, but it's worth repeating: a company's innovation is only as good as its IP protection. Most startups don't know the first thing about patents versus trademarks, the legality of software patents, remedies for infringement, DMCA takedowns, and all of the other minutia of day-to-day intellectual property protection and enforcement. But really, these IP details are the most important aspect of their business, aside from the innovation itself.
Is there a bigger trap for small businesses?
Let's start with the NLRB, with it's ever-evolving standards. Social Media policies can't restrict complaining about work. Regulating workplace gossip and conduct is apparently also a difficult move to pull off, legally. These are things that a small business owner would never think about.
Plus, there's considerations of non-disclosure and non-compete agreements, anti-poaching agreements, adjusting company policies to promote an open and tolerant workplace that can lure top talent. And you'll need to put out fires when someone inevitably does cross a line.
Regulate the Regulators
When Square introduced a device that could turn your iPhone into a credit card processing machine, it ran into state regulatory walls in the Midwest. When Uber swapped hand-waving at taxis for smartphone cab and car hailing, it was immediately attacked by taxi regulators nationwide. Don't even get us started on AirBnB.
When startups meet state regulators, and innovation clashes with regulation, a company's chief asset is their legal department, which can research the regulations beforehand, or fight to change regulations when the company is greeted with a cease and desist.
How do you facilitate innovation? Tweet us your tips @FindLawLP.
- Lessons for In-house Counsel from Target's Former CEO (FindLaw's In House Blog)
- In House Lawyers Agree: We Are Afraid of Math (FindLaw's In House Blog)
- Becoming General Counsel to a Startup Company (FindLaw's In House Blog)