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Collaboration Focus: Creating Successful Collaborations whilst Protecting Your Firm’s Interests

The benefits of collaboration and what you can do to ensure you protect your business and ideas are considered by Leon Deakin, Emma Stevens and Cathy Kirby from Coffin Mew’s technology sector.

Effective collaboration can be hugely valuable to businesses in all sectors, allowing opportunities for the sharing of knowledge, experience and opportunities. Law is no exception to this and we see collaboration regularly in a number of forms – between our clients and third parties and between clients and their professional advisers.

In the fast-paced technology sector, collaboration can bring a number of benefits for both scale/fast-growth businesses but also the established tech giants. In particular, key benefits include:-

  1. The sharing of expertise, knowledge and resources can lead to cost savings and efficiencies;
  2. The opportunity for trouble-shooting and problem-solving, which can offer different perspectives on a problem and can speed up development processes; and
  3. The potential for mutual business opportunities and/or cross-promotion.

Indeed, a collaboration between small and large is common, as the scale business can be nimble and innovative, whilst the giant has the backing and resources to make it happen and quickly.

Many small-scale organisations are now operating from less traditional workspaces, such as co-working office spaces, which for many are not only cost-effective but provide the added value which comes from working with other entrepreneurs. If your product designer, marketing manager and web developer are all in the same room, barriers to information, communication and innovation fall away.

From a technical perspective a fully secure, cloud-based collaboration space allows you to work without transmitting data ‘across the wire’ avoiding all of the potential security issues that brings. Often there is more control over the way that the parties collaborate, so that they work in a prescribed format, introducing less variations in working methods and technologies. Many law firms provide these facilities and often the only question is whose collaboration space should be used, however, we do still encounter businesses that wish to work with us through less secure public cloud services, in which case it rests with us to outline our commitment to security and confidentiality.

Intellectual property and know-how are usually some of the most valuable assets which a business has, particularly in its early stages. In order to preserve the value of these assets, it is important to consider the potential implications of collaboration or joint venture from the outset as there are a number of legal mechanisms available to ensure that your interests and ideas remain protected. Some of the most common potential issues to consider are:-

  1. The nature of the collaboration itself – consider whether a formal company, partnership or joint venture arrangement is needed, in cases where longer-term collaboration is planned, or whether a short form contract or licensing arrangement may be sufficient, where only short-time collaboration is anticipated;
  2. Security and confidentiality – consider how you can ensure that the information which you share is protected and will not be used beyond the scope of the proposed collaboration. In many cases a non-disclosure agreement with clear parameters may be the best means of protecting your interests, in others, a licensing and/or confidentiality agreement may be more appropriate; and
  3. The purpose of the collaboration – consider whether it is for knowledge sharing, a mutual enterprise or creative endeavour or for mutual profit. Whatever the case, it is important to ensure that this is properly recorded and that you consider the distribution of any profits, as well as what will happen at the conclusion of the collaboration and what would happen if either party wanted the collaboration to end early.

There is a common misconception that legal formalities inevitably slow progress and cause unnecessary delay and expense; however, that is not necessarily the case. Often, ensuring clarity at the outset can prevent future issues and future disputes. Our advice to clients is that collaboration is a good thing but that seeking advice at an early stage can be a valuable investment for your business.

Cathy Kirby, Director of Technology
Cathy works with all levels of the business to ensure that ICT forms part of, and is supporting, the firm’s strategy. She manages third party relationships with outsourced IT and communications suppliers to ensure stability and reliability of services.

Leon Deakin, Partner Employment
Leon is the head of the employment team at Coffin Mew, providing practical, solution-focussed advice on all aspects of employment law and HR to a wide range of businesses and individuals. He also leads the firm’s cross-practice technology sector team who help fast-growth/scale-up businesses and large companies in the tech sector with all their legal issues.

Emma Stevens – Senior Associate, Dispute Resolution
Emma advises clients on a wide range of corporate and commercial disputes including contractual claims, restrictive covenant disputes, shareholder disputes and debt recovery. As a member of the firm’s technology sector, she also has a particular specialism in intellectual property disputes assisting companies and individuals to protect their IP rights, predominantly against online infringements.

Coffin Mew

Coffin Mew

Coffin Mew
Coffin Mew is an innovative and entrepreneurial regional law firm with offices across the South and Thames Valley areas. They advise entrepreneurs, privately-owned organisations and their owners and private landowners as they manage their commercial risk, people, corporate structures and transactions, estate and property management, and wealth management.