Hackathons – Possible Legal Issues & How to Avoid Them

Over the past year, hackathons have become immensely popular. A hackathon is an event where programmers and others involved in software and hardware development, come together, form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code a unique solution from scratch. Many online platforms, mobile apps, software and hardware were invented during the hackthons. Hackathons may last a day, a week or any time in between.


Hackathons are forums for self-expression and creativity through technology. It’s good to have an open collaborative environment, but it also leads to exceedingly ambiguous situations, in which people don’t have understanding of who owns what or what rights and claims may emerge. Some precautionary legal measures can and should be taken during a hackathon to prevent unpleasant surprises. Some people are reluctant to ask their collaborators to sign legal agreements before anything is actually created because they are afraid to kill the camaraderie mood. In reality being straightforward about your goals and expectations never hurt anyone, but on the contrary, brought trust and respect.


There is no need to develop long complicated legal documents and have all involved parties study them for hours. Simple but properly implemented legal techniques can set the right tone and prevent small issues from spinning into huge, expensive battles down the road. A one-page collaboration agreement can address the main matters, such as


·                    Do parties, who just met at the hackathon event, want to go into business together as partners if during this hackathon they create a product/service, which can be developed into a viable business?


·                    If some do not want to get into a business partnership, do they agree to assign their interest in the developed intellectual property to others who may want to continue with its development?


·                    Do they expect to be compensated for IP assignment? If yes, how the value will be determined? Payment terms? Will it be a lump sum or a payment plan?


The Shortest Agreement may look like this


This agreement is between Collaborator 1 and Collaborator 2. We agree as follows:


1.  Each of us, individually, is free to use any programming concept shared, discovered, or created during the Hackathon ______________.


2.  Each of us hereby grants a full, non-exclusive, free license to the other to use any code or binaries from the above project. This means that each of us, individually, have the right to use anything we create for the project above as part of a separate larger project with a significant amount of additional functionality. 


In the event that the project has any commercial value, we'll take reasonable steps to come to a new agreement with the goal of creating a separate entity to manage and develop the project further.




Collaborator 1                                                                        Collaborator 2


I am sure than such short non-ambiguous agreement will help all collaborators to work on the product without any double-thoughts or worries.

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