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Can an employer claim ownership over your work?

On Behalf of | Aug 14, 2023 | Business Litigation

As creatives and innovators, you help empower organizations to think outside the box. Creating and exploring new ideas comes naturally to you. However, it is important to consider the implications of working on personal projects during your employment.

When do employees not own their ideas?

Whether you are a content creator, artist, software developer or industrial designer, anything you create while working for a company may not be yours to claim if they hired you for that purpose.

Employees may not assert ownership over ideas developed during the course of employment or those that are related to the employer’s business unless they have an agreement that states otherwise. Ideas created within the workplace or using company equipment may also cost employees their ownership rights.

In case of an intellectual property dispute, there are several factors the court will consider. The employer-employee relationship, company policies and how the creative work was made can impact the court’s decision.

If you create or improve upon a business idea because it is a part of your duty, then your employer can lay claim to any intellectual property you produce.

Company policies typically outline the employer’s rights over its employee’s ideas, creations or inventions. However, some employment contracts may indicate that any creations unrelated to the business or done during the employee’s own time without using company resources belong to the employee.

Can employees work on personal projects at home?

Again, your relationship with the company and your agreement will define whether they have any ownership over what you create, even projects you do at home.

Intellectual property laws can be tricky. In some ways, they can limit your ability to pursue your own ideas and personal projects.

Before starting a personal project, it is a good idea to review your employment agreement. Be aware of specific terms like invention assignment agreement or proprietary information agreement, which may affect your ownership of your creations. You must also ensure that you never use company time and resources while working on them.

If you are worried about your personal projects, whether you started them before, during, or after your employment, seeking advice from a lawyer can be a wise move. They may help you understand the risks of pursuing those projects and recommend the best course of action.