Challenges can be a great and fun way to engage the ‘global brain’ and find solutions that you wouldn’t have been able to source on your own. Particularly when challenges are open to the public, participants often want to know what will happen to their ideas – and if they are contributing something that will be profited from – but not by them. How you choose to handle intellectual property (IP) issues will influence the ideas you receive, and who sends them.
Transparency is critical
No matter which direction you go in, make sure that it’s very clear at the outset. If participants won’t own their IP, don’t just hide this somewhere in the fine print. Be honest about how their ideas will be used and what rights they will have to their idea in the future. This builds trust which pays dividends through better quality submissions.
Who owns an idea?
It’s your challenge and you will have the right to frame the terms and conditions of entry as suits your organisation. We prefer things are shared via open source style agreements that keep ownership with the originator – but that’s just us. Ultimately the less rights you want to leave with participants, the better your rewards will need to be, as that is then the only ‘hook’. Particularly in technology based competitions, not keeping at least partial rights to an idea may put off a large percentage of the highest quality contributors. It’s important to be aware of what you are trying to achieve and how your audience will perceive it before you set your terms. Test with a potential contributor if possible.
If you are running a competition internal to your organisation this is probably less of an issue as all IP created in the course of their work is likely to be owned by the organisation under employment agreements. However this may not apply to contractors and other workers. Be sure to consider who is involved and what agreements should be in place early.
Who is responsible for implementing an idea?
Some people are ideas people, some people get things done. Many people can do both, but those that are good at both are rare. Have a plan for how you will implement ideas and involve the originator before you launch. While this isn’t directly an IP issue, it may influence how you structure ownership of the idea.
Occasionally that great idea might not be the work of the submitter. This isn’t high school – if it solves the problem you’re having, it probably still holds some value for you. To make it fair for all participants, be clear on your position. The simplest option is to acknowledge that few great ideas come from nowhere and encourage all participants to reference their sources. This may also encourage a little more research, providing you with examples which could be beneficial. Consider creating a space where users can share ideas they’ve seen too – this might help discourage direct plagiarism, and involve those who don’t have an idea but are well read.