Intellectual Property contract concern

As of this afternoon I was just about to accept a job offer, but I decided to call the prospective company to discuss my intellectual property rights.

I currently possess a large amount of knowledge concerning a very specific product design industry, and I am in the process of filing a provisional patent to ensure protection on my idea.

In the contract there is a mention of intellectual property, so I wanted to clarify that any manifestations of this idea, outside of the prospective company, would belong to me.

I was told that this creates a conflict of interest, and that it could prove to be a problem if I was to pursue this idea in my leisure time after taking the job. I was also told that ANY idea developed during my time of employment belonged to the company, even if it was not the direct result of a project I was workin on. The company expressed concerns about losing investments made into training and education to justify this.

Is this strange or is it just me?

It is not unusual. Unacceptable maybe, but not unusual.

I have had some employers who wish to see what I am working on outside for first right of refusal. This is a little better but not much as unless it is spelled out how long they can take to decide and a financial incentive if they accept, then you are in the same spot.

Of course this is coming from a company that has a as needed employment policy (in that I mean they can let you go at any time).

Thanks fore the insight. Right now, the clause in the contract is unacceptable for me - I feel like the potential for my current project, and other potential projects far outweighs the meager yearly salary that I am being offered. Am I just being stupid about this?

Has anyone had experience negotiating something like this with an employer?

This is so common as to be expected. Depending on the company, you might be able to negotiate the specifics of what kinds of intellectual property fall under their umbrella, but then you have to be prepared to show them those things on which you’re working so they can make an independent evaluation… and I would expect that seemingly-unrelated areas would suddenly become “related” if an idea was good enough.

If you don’t need the salary, consider walking. Maybe consider going back and offering your services on contract. Independent contracts typically have clearer boundaries about what the “Client” owns.

It’s common practice to claim exclusive rights to all IP during AND previously developed. Plainly stated, it’s a corporate tactic: let’s see if we can get it. It’s a ploy same as the infamous small print term and condition “We’re not liable for anything howsever caused.” In my experience it’s always been negotiable. Example:

A red label cola company issued a 170 page contract as part of an RFP. Two clauses: We own all IP developed; we own any IP previously developed used on this project. In negotiations they agreed with no recompense to delete the “we own previously developed IP”, admitting they always try just in case.

Does the company want to hire you because you have this expertise or IP? Negotiate your IP separately from employment terms and conditions. Sticky part is that you say you don’t have IP yet, you’re thinking of filing; hence the company claiming conflict.

It’s also common practice to claim exclusive ownership of IP created during term of employment on your own time and resources. Refuse or negotiate! It’s strictly an easter egg for the company. Accademia is the only applicable area of IP exclusivity.

These are left over tactics from when companies believed they owned their employees or where there’s a corporate culture of “Just be glad you have (or we’re offering you) a job.”

Incidentally, no company owns IP, they can only be assignees. Although, an employee automatically assigning rights to his company is defacto commercial ownership. All patents are owned by the individuals named.

And sorry for late response, just joined.

Thanks for the insight. I found that I was able to negotiate a number of the clauses to my favor after I spoke with an attorney about appropriate wording.

Always be on the lookout for companies that try to claim your outside work as their own intellectual property.

I worked at a design firm for a while where I did architectural design by day and then went home to do freelance web design at night. One of the guys in the office found out that I was doing the freelance web work and decided that it would make a great addition to their revenue stream.

Two weeks later the creative director stopped by my desk to annouce that they got a web design deal with one of our clients and they needed an estimate of cost from me to produce it under the company name. They never asked me if I was willing to do that kind of work for them, they just hijacked me.

What really pissed me off was that they started telling clients that “web design” was a core skill of the company even though I was the only one there capable of doing it and they gave me little or no say in what was done.

I balked at the idea (1) because they never asked me, and (2) because they didn’t even own the software needed to do the job. The company just assumed that I would bring my copies of dreamweaver and flash from home and install it on their machines. Total bullshit.

The final straw was when someone suggested that I bring my freelance web clients through the company to “offer broader services” beyond what I was capable of working off hours. They wanted my entire client list handed over to the sales department so they could steal from me and absorb my business. Of course I would be compensated through a “referral bonus” for every client that I refused and turned over to them.

I no longer work there.