Before I begin working with a new client, I make sure they understand that my role is principally to define business problems so they can be solved, and solve them myself when appropriate. It is not to manufacture intellectual property.

Of course, the way I do my work is through the prolific generation of information artifacts of various kinds, from documents, to data sets, to computer code. The purposes these artifacts typically serve are to aid thinking, discussion and decision-making around the problem set, make the hard tasks easy, and make the easy tasks nonexistent. They include, but are not limited to:

Such artifacts are indeed subject to intellectual property law, and the question of who owns what at the end of the day must be addressed. After careful deliberation over many years, I have devised a simple model to help my clients understand the partitioning of the rights to the artifacts I create while working with them.

Specific Artifacts

A specific artifact is anything for which the content originates in or is derived from something already owned by the client, or is otherwise peculiar to the client. A specific artifact, in this context, either contains confidential information, is tailor-fit to the client, or simply wouldn't make sense for anybody but the client to use. Ownership of these artifacts is transferred to the client upon receipt of payment for the billing cycle they were created in.

Generic Artifacts

The litmus test for a generic artifact is that you can apply it to something that the client doesn't do. Furthermore, the artifact will have at most a tangential relationship to any client-specific information. If you can erase all reference to the client—assuming there is any to begin with—and the artifact is still useful, then that artifact is generic.

My specialty is in organizing information in a way that maximizes its ability to be used. In practice, this translates to the extensive employment—and creation—of open documentation, open standards, open protocols and data exchange formats, and open-source software. The value of these artifacts is that they remain open for all to use, not just the client. In order to protect this condition, I retain ownership of generic artifacts, which the client can access legally through a set of carefully-selected, extremely liberal licenses:

Content is that which has meaning primarily to people, and is consumed through reading, listening, watching, or otherwise attending to it. Content falls under the Creative Commons Attribution License, 3.0 Unported.
Software Code
Code is the work that does the work—formal language which is executable by machine and the assets directly attached to it. It is subject to the Apache License, 2.0.
A database contains information primarily important to people, but is arranged in a formal structure designed to be accessed by machine. Rights to a database's structure are the purview of the Open Data Commons Attribution License, 1.0.

Each of these licenses permits the client, perpetually and irrevocably, to use generic artifacts for anything they need to do, including repackaging and reselling—they just can't prevent other people from using them. Here is why I chose this approach:

Generative Benefits
These kinds of artifacts increase in value, the more people have access to them. For one, increased mindshare in a particular way of doing things means the client has a larger and more competitive pool of agents to work on their stuff. Likewise, you will find with open source, standards, etc., people routinely take the initiative to improve something they have a stake in, because they use it themselves. Moreover, I will likely make improvements on these artifacts, personally, for many years to come. These updates and improvements come at no additional cost to the client.
It's Cheaper
Intellectual property is notoriously difficult to price. This is because you usually can't tell what it's worth until long after it has been created. In order to trade successfully in IP, I have to get enough cash to compensate for the possibility of never being able to use a particular set of creations in the future. It also entails the overhead of calculating this premium, which not only will almost certainly be wrong, but enough of the time a clearing price is unattainable. But if all the client needs is to be able to use that material, they can save a lot of time, hassle, and money.

Strategic Artifacts

Both specific and generic artifacts can also have the property of being strategic, which in this context I mean that the value of the artifact is derived primarily from being able to restrict access to it. In order to do that, you have to own it. Entertainment content, like movies and music—which I don't expect ever to make—falls into this category, so would anything that can be trademarked or patented. This does not pose a problem for specific artifacts, since clients own them anyway, but it is indeed possible to generate generic artifacts which could also be viewed as strategic. To this, I assert once again that I am not an IP factory, and therefore strategic artifacts are out of scope from the standard service agreement, to be negotiated separately. There are firms who specialize in invention for hire, and they charge orders of magnitude more than I do.

There You Have It

I am lucky to have clients who understand the value of open. They also understand that my job is to help them get smarter, gain new abilities, and get their organizations running better—and that they can go elsewhere if they are looking to pad their patent portfolios.

My goal is to grow a business around solving the tough, no-size-fits-all problems of business information infrastructure in a way which is low-risk, affordable, and fair. If you find any of this compelling and you need this kind of help, we should probably chat.