Partnership and Partnerships

Before we continue, let's be clear about the sort of partnership we're talking about. We're not concerned with the legal entity known as a partnership, which is governed by a partnership agreement and which confers specific legal rights, responsibilities, and liabilities on the partners. Rather, we're interested in a looser, everyday type of partnership in which two people decide to combine resources and abilities in order to complete a project that will yield benefit to both of them, and which neither could do as well, or at all, independently. Keep this distinction in mind as you read. The partners in a legal partnership aren't IPs; they're members of an organization that typically provides support mechanisms unavailable to most IPs. The IP partners in the informal, everyday partnership we'll address here remain IPs in spite of the partnership.

Another distinction to bear in mind is the difference between partners and subcontractors. Typically, partners share a contract with the same client. This has potentially meaningful consequences. If, for example, the client stiffs one partner for payment, both partners suffer. A subcontractor, however, has a contract with the primary contractor, and no contract at all with the ultimate client; the primary contractor is the subcontractor's client. This means that a subcontractor can demand payment for services rendered by him even if the primary contractor is unable to collect from his own client.

In a casual partnership, however, one in which one partner might hold the primary contract, the distinction between partner and subcontractor becomes fainter. It exists nonetheless, and primarily has to do with the manner in which the partners work together. They treat each other as professional equals, for example, and will consult with each other to solve problems. The hierarchy in the relationship is more or less flat. Nobody gives or receives orders. The partners share tasks. Furthermore, both partners work on the entire project, not merely on separate parts. That is, although they may divide tasks, neither considers the project complete until both partners' tasks are done. Finally, and most concretely, both partners are stuck if the client doesn't pay. Together they rise, together they fall. They're partners.