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    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Divorce and Intellectual Property

    A recent opinion highlights the ugliness of intellectual property when divorce occurs. The beloved Johnathan Livingstone Seagull was the rope in a tug of war between the author Richard Bach, and his ex, Ms. Parrish, in the Washington Court of Appeals case Bach v. Parrish,
    60406-6-I (2008).
    Ms. Parrish had helped Mr. Bach out by buying the copyright rights to the book when Mr. Bach went through bankruptcy shortly after they were married, using her separate funds. She then granted him 50% of the rights. They then divorced and agreed as part of the divorce to share the rights to the book as tenants in common. They then executed a comprehensive settlement dividing up the rights including rights to accrued causes of action such as copyright infringement. There was an infringer. It resulted in a monetary settlement. Bach and Parrish fought over who got what. Ultimately, Bach won because the divorce agreement was comprehensive and clearly gave him the accrued causes of action. It also required resolution by arbitration before a specific judge. All of which the Court of Appeals agreed to.

    Reading this case displays only some of the bizarre tangles that occur when divorce enters the world of intellectual property. Washington is a community property state. Thus, Ms. Parrish was able to purchase and own because of her separate funds. Would she have been unable to get individual rights in a non-community property state. There are numerous questions of who owns what in a marriage, depending on the State and the type of intellectual property.

    One clear result from the case that entrepreneurs should take away, Bach was definitely benefited by having a well drafted agreement that contained an arbitration clause.