Teaming with a Large Company to Pursue Government Contracts? Watch Your Small Business' Intellectual Property!
In the current recessionary economic climate, there is one customer that is arguably still spending a lot of money to receive goods and services – the U.S. federal government. For many small businesses trying to team with government agencies, the best approach may be to team with a larger company that can supplement your small business' skill sets, and provide leverage and credentials you may not yet have acquired. In pursuit of these contracts, it is vital to pay attention to your small business’ intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets).
By encouraging teaming of large government contract firms with small businesses, government agencies can benefit. Government agencies fulfill their goal in carrying out the principal tenet of the original Small Business Act (1953) – to encourage and develop small business growth. By consolidating their buy requirements with a single contractor, government agency buyers of goods and services can reduce their administrative burden, program management costs and risks, all while expanding opportunities for small business that result in overall increased competition and the fostering of innovation.
So, what’s in it for the large firms? Well, both small and large companies benefit from teaming. While a small company can tap its larger counterpart’s knowledge, experience and purchasing power, the larger firm gains access to small business set-aside opportunities. For example, by partnering with Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB), large firms can access one of the hundreds of monthly set-aside contracting opportunities for which they would otherwise be ineligible to compete. Also, partnering with a small business can enhance a large business’ relationship with various federal contracting agencies as many struggle to meet their set-aside goals. The mutually beneficial relationship of the teaming arrangement results in a highly-efficient and diversified team capable of winning new business and providing excellent customer service to the government.
Regardless of the mechanics of a large government contractor-small business teaming arrangement, smaller firms – simply because they are small and are eager for new business – have to be vigilant about their intellectual property rights. For example, unbeknownst to many small, high-tech firms is that Section 52.227-11(k)(3) of the Federal Acquisition Rules makes it illegal for a large firm to require a small business it is partnering with on a government contract to give up any IP rights as a precondition to working on the contract. Thus, there is a statutory framework that levels the playing field in negotiations with large firms. This statutory level playing field, however, only applies to patent rights. For a small firm’s innovations protected by trade secret, copyright or trademark, extra vigilance is required when negotiating such agreements to preserve these forms of IP rights.