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Are there intellectual property issues with SaaS tools?

Should businesses worry about intellectual property when using SaaS tools? Read this expert response to find out.

Yes, you should worry about intellectual property whenever you use any "as a service" tool, not just software as a service (SaaS) tools. Read the terms of service (TOS) carefully. Some services can help; for example, TOS;DR, a user rights service that ranks site terms and privacy policies. Make sure the TOS doesn't require you to give up your company's or users' rights to anything you upload. Also make sure you're allowed to upload what you want to upload. For example, Google Analytics does not allow you to upload any user's personally identifiable information.

Be careful when using Flurry Analytics, a SaaS platform for mobile analytics. Flurry is free, which should set off all sorts of alarms if you're concerned about privacy. Flurry is free for application developers to incorporate because the company uses and sells aggregated stats from your application. For the most part, this won't be a major issue because they say they will always use aggregated statistics. But there's nothing to stop them from having one of those aggregated statistics involve a major portion of your user base.

Be sure to check the TOS and privacy policy of any SaaS tools you're evaluating, particularly if you're concerned about highly confidential intellectual property (such as a list of your users, vendors, etc.). This doesn't mean you should avoid SaaS entirely, it just means you need to make sure you know who is running your SaaS.

Make sure that your service agreement protects your company from your cloud provider's legal mistakes. Let's say that a third party sues your cloud provider for intellectual property infringement. Where does that leave your company, which has been using -- via the cloud provider -- the third party's product? Be safe by making sure there's a protection clause in the contract.

Intellectual property is complex and subject to many different interpretations. Think of the technology research that could have been funded with money spent on intellectual property lawsuits in the software industry. In this area, it pays to get legal advice during contract negotiations.

Jan Stafford, SearchCloudApplications.com's executive editor, contributed to this article.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2014

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What are your concerns surrounding intellectual property and SaaS tools?
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Intellectual property rights are something you must pay attention to, even if you are using Software as a Service. The packages that come with SaaS bundles don't grant free reign to use the software in any way you like. Businesses must pay attention to the fine print, and avoid using the software in a way that violates the software owner's rights.
There are several things to consider when using SaaS packages. Make sure to read the terms of service, and don't use any package that states you'll give up your rights to any uploaded documents. Check the privacy policy to see what kinds of information the company gathers about you business and services. Pay attention to how the company uses your information, and how you can use theirs.
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