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Entrepreneurs' Ideas vs Big Companies: Be Careful

Following my blog post on the legal ruling between Mattel and MGA Entertainment, I spoke with Lawrence Apolzon, a trademark and copyright lawyer and co-author of the book From Edison to iPod: Protect Your Ideas and Make Money (DK Publishing 2007). A lot of discussion came up about the ability of fledgling entrepreneurs and their ability to create a new product or firm while working for a big company. Apolzon, whose law firm Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, represent Mattel told me “be careful,” especially if that idea derived from time on the company clock. “To my knowledge corporations don’t ask you to sign your life away.” But he says, “If your side interests overlap take it up with the company.” Apolzon says that would-be inventors and entrepreneurs should understand that they are usually asked to sign agreements and non-compete clauses because they are given access to trade secrets and the result of millions of dollars of investment resources. Companies often look askew at people devising new products in large part because of the access and resources they had while working at a corporation. That’s not to say they shouldn’t try to go out on their own. But first Apolzon advises caution. Entrepreneurs should begin by protecting their own ideas (filing patents and copyright and trademark protection). But also he says: “I think that people need to understand the difference in what they leaving behind and what they are doing going forward.”

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