Striking a Balance Between Innovation and Law with Go Code Colorado (Law Week Colorado Intellectual Property Feature)

** Co-written with Rehan Hasan **

Colorado continues to reestablish itself as a leader in the technology industry, evidenced by an expanding base of tech powerhouses as well as its thriving startup community. Innovators, large and small, propel the State’s economy. Go Code Colorado, a public-private partnership pioneering and leading the open data movement, is harnessing the entrepreneurial spirt of Colorado for public benefit.

Just one year ago, Go Code Colorado launched its statewide computer apps challenge aimed at connecting government, business, and technology communities to create new, technology-based businesses that make Colorado State public data more accessible and user-friendly to citizens. Teams of entrepreneurs, business partners, and developers competed to solve business problems and grow the economy by building apps that will help Colorado companies prosper. Now as Go Code Colorado embarks on its second year, we look back at the unique legal challenges, particularly in the area of intellectual property, this innovative initiative faced.

The first challenge was establishing the role of the legal advisor, which was not clearly defined. As legal advisors involved with Go Code Colorado, we needed to bridge the gap between the fast-paced private technology companies and government. This required seamlessly integrating our roles of business lawyers and business strategists. We became integral players in executing bold and experimental plans while ensuring that company and government leaders were aligned around strategies and implementation priorities. Striking the right balance between building a platform that fosters innovation and participation in the program, while also protecting stakeholders, necessitates collaboration between lawyer and client for creative problem solving.

Second, the legal framework and intellectual property strategy required flexibility so creators and participants gained the most value from the Go Code Colorado experience. Two strategic plans ran in parallel. Different approaches to intellectual property protection were constantly considered both for program development as well as the protection of the intellectual property created during the competition. On one hand, the Go Code Colorado needed legal protection that complied with cumbersome Colorado State procurement law. On the other, business and computer developers participating in the program were accustomed to dynamic and flexible legal solutions offered by the private sector regarding intellectual property protection and licensing. To join these two seemingly disparate ends, instead of traditional work-for-hire lock-downs of intellectual property, Go Code Colorado adopted a hybrid approach wherein it grants a yearlong license, with an assignment after a year to the team with the fulfillment of certain deliverables. This approach protects the State of Colorado’s investment in the program while giving the winning teams the opportunity to grow, obtain funding, etc. even after the term of the contract with the State of Colorado.

Additionally, business decisions inform the flavor of appropriate legal representation and the approach to intellectual property strategy. Creating a comprehensive legal and business plan must take into account the culture of all involved. Each individual and entity involved presents its own challenges, opportunities, and agendas. For Go Code Colorado, this included participants from the private and public sector with a goal to benefit the public at large. Additionally, taking into account the risk-tolerance of the client was crucial to the success of Go Code Colorado in it first year. Constructing new creative platforms always involves a certain amount of risk, and we were in the best position to counsel on both the legal and business risks. Each small decision hinged on meeting the end objectives of the program, and required constant reflection and communication.

While the legal work is integral to achieving the goals of the client, more importantly is the role as a strategic advisor and creation of an intellectual property scheme, where the legal piece supports the strategic objectives of the program.