Who Owns Your Ideas?

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on May 16, 2006

If you came up with a great idea while working at your last job, your former employer may own it. You may have signed away your rights to it in the employment contract. Even if you work as a consultant or temporary worker, agreements are usually worded so that whatever you conceive, develop, or prepare while in a company’s employ is theirs. Because of that, people serious about developing a new technology often go to work for service employers — such as restaurants, gas stations, cleaning services, and the like — that have no intellectual-product component to their business.

When you own your own company, on the other hand, it’s essential to make sure your attorney prepares an employment contract that assigns your employees’ intellectual product to you. Be clear about who owns what. In an early-stage company, much of the value comes from the talents of your employees, and they may leave your company and become your competitor if you’re careless about protecting your ideas.

Marilyn Holt, CMC
Holt Capital
Seattle

Reader Comments

Don

September 29, 2006 1:01 AM

As a result of harassment, in 2001 my empoloyer gave me a training and development assignment to learn Web programming. On my own time, I created three systems and later adapted them to my employer's technology to get a merit award. I was instructed to submit a merit award claim to get compensated for my ideas (see www.dpa.ca.gov). I submitted the form with the design. Later, my merit award request was rejected and my system has been built for $101 million invested by my employer. When I inquired about my ideas being built per the 2001 technology manual I was told my time to claim them has expired and they now belong to my employer per the merit award claim. Do I have any recourse?

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