The New York Times reports that a growing number of people are signing prenuptial agreements to divide their intellectual property: things like iPhone app ideas, songs and restaurant concepts.

Protecting your ideas and future income – rather than on current salaries, real-estate and personal property – makes perfect sense in an age when intellectual property is so highly valued.

Employers increasingly require employees to sign away all future ideas and opportunities to compete with the company and divorcing partners too hope to keep these assets in case of a breakup.

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements, or “prenups,” are contracts entered into before marriage that outline the division of assets in case of divorce or death.

Prenupts, and Post-nups (agreements entered after a marriage) resolve things like alimony, ownership of businesses, title of properties, and even each spouse’s financial responsibilities during the marriage.

There are many other concerns that can be addressed in a prenup: Caring for a parent; Going back to school; Shopping habits; Credit card debt; Tax liabilities; and even death or disability.

In the world of intellectual property, interpreting prenups for future intangibles is difficult: What did the parties actually mean to include? How are amorphous ideas and innovations to be valued?

There are dangers with this new prenup trend. Consider the example of a wife holding a steady job while the husband works on his app. They share the risk now, but if they divorce, the husband reaps the rewards of his intellectual property, and the prenup could ensure his ex-wife gets nothing.

Intellectual property – including music, art, literary works, films, scientific and medical developments, technology – is normally protected against third parties by copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets.

But among couples, a need has developed to protect “ideas” conceived by either a bride or groom who see him or herself as the next Mark Zuckerberg. In the event of a divorce, these couples want protection for what may be each person’s most valuable asset – the product of their intellect or invention.

The New York Times article is here.

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