WORKPLACE SAVVY

Intellectual property belongs to employer


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 5:35 p.m.

Q: I started a job recently, and on the first day I signed what seemed like a mind-boggling number of forms.

Among them was one stating that anything that I invented, discovered or wrote in my role with the company belonged to the company.

I signed it, but it seems kind of unfair.

They are paying me for my time, does that also entitle them to my ideas?

A: Yes it does.

Whether you write a genius line of code on a software program; create a brilliant, never-before-seen sales campaign; or discover a new way to combine two metals turning them into gold, that software, that innovation, that formula — usually referred to as intellectual property (IP) — belongs to the employer.

In reality, the company pays you for more than just your time.

You’re not simply standing there, a warm body keeping someone’s place in line.

They pay you for your skills, experience and intellect — a portion of which, at some point, could belong to them.

Unfair? Not from the employer’s point of view.

If someone is using company time, equipment and resources to create something of value, why shouldn’t it belong to the company?

Of course, none of this means that you can’t use the experience, skills and insight you acquire on a job and branch out to do something similar on your own.

Many new businesses and spin-offs started from an idea germinated at work by an entrepreneurial-minded employee.

But, you have to be very careful and consult an attorney to make sure what you plan to do is sufficiently different so the company won’t have grounds to sue you.

A famous example is Facebook.

According to the movie “Social Network,” the legal conflict they encountered revolved around whether Mark Zuckerburg came up with the idea while he was working on a project paid for by the Winklevoss brothers, who sued, claiming he stole it.

Facebook had to pay them a settlement.

So, if you think you have unique ideas that need protecting, educate yourself on the topics of IP, patents and trademarks, but also know your obligations to your employer.

Now, by all means, go forth and innovate.

Eva Del Rio is a human resources consultant and business owner. Send questions to askeva@hrproondemand.com or find her on Facebook.

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