One of those basic realities of entrepreneurship is the fact that you can't get there by yourself. You will need help and it will likely come in the form of partners. Manufacturing, sales, marketing, finance, accounting, and the list goes on. Perhaps a typical scenario goes like this: you have a hot new technology but you need someone to help you make it. Your intellectual property outlines a basic concept for making the product and your challenge is to figure out how to scale up in a manufacturing environment. So you meet with a few manufactures who are excited about working with you as you are equally excited about making your stuff. You like one particular company and you sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or a Letter of Intent (LOI) and start the process of figuring out how to make your stuff. Through several trial runs, you determine the right mix of materials, the best temperature and pressure and your product turns out to be better than expected. The question is who owns this new intellectual property? You? Everybody? Nobody?
Benjamin K. Riley has written a fine article on the Fortune Blog called Three Legal Lessons For Startups in which he goes into some detail about the importance of legal agreements between business partners and joint ventures. Different legal agreement types carry different weight when it comes to ownership of intellectual property and it's important to understand these differences and make sure your trade secrets stay a secret.
Partners may not stay partners for ever....
By the way, this article came to me via a great newsletter called Lipper Current Weekly. It's one of the best.