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Intellectual Property in The Workplace

Howard Caplan - Lewis, Walker, & Longman, P.A.

Most employers and employees are aware that whatever the employee does for the company, on company time, belongs to the company. As companies know, employees do things for their own benefit off company time. Some of the things employees do might be an enhancement to a company product, or software that simplifies company tasks, or a new product name, or just about anything else that could benefit the company. An employee might approach a supervisor about bringing the employee development to the company because of a perceived mutual benefit. If the employee brings the matter to the company, who owns whatever it is that the employee developed? 

This article will consider the more common scenarios of when an employee or other compensated individual develops material beyond the scope of the individual’s regular position with the company. Various scenarios of when or how or if the employee brings the material to the attention of the company will be addressed. The use of independent contractors as well as leased employees is beyond the scope of this article, unless expressly identified. In addition, different company policies will be discussed and how they may impact the result. This article will also suggest policies for consideration by employers. This article does not address employment law issues in any material sense other than rights to material developed by an employee. Other employment law matters are beyond the scope of this article, although other employment law issues may be raised. 

Certain terms will be used throughout this article for clarity. Unless stated otherwise, the terms will have the following identified meaning. “Employer” or “company” means the business entity – this includes a sole proprietorship – for which a person works. “Employee” means a person working as an hourly or salaried, W-2 compensated person. “Person” means a natural person, a living individual.

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