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Many people these days have at least part of their job in the virtual world. Bloggers, designers, and other jobs thrive specifically in keeping up with the nuances of the virtual world. More and more employment in these fields means more and more types of employment agreements. This article is not about the ins and outs of employment law, but instead focuses on a niche aspect: work product, or what some call “work-for-hire.”

If I work for Microsoft or Apple or another tech titan, and I am a software designer, when if I have an entrepreneurial mind? What if the job is temporary and I have a different endgame, a plan to start my own small-time tech company to focus on smaller-scale jobs. This does not mean I will work less hard, or be less valuable to my employer. My 40-hour workweek is a 9-5 (or nowadays could be 12-8 with certain work from home provisions) hustle and flow mentality. What will I likely do with my off-hours? Well if my dreams of becoming my own boss are real I am likely going to start developing software that is completely separate from my work for Microsoft, on my own equipment and computer. I own all the IP to that right?

Well, it depends.

What IP rights might lie in my work? 

Like with all things, it depends on what kind of work you do for your employer (even if you’re an independent contractor). If you’re a photographer hired as a second shooter for a big shot wedding photographer, then the IP in question is copyright. If you’re an engineer in charge of streamlining manufacturing and you create a new machine in the process, the potential battle is over a patent.

A company obviously wants to ensure everything you put together while working for them remains theirs after you leave, especially if you’re the “golden goose” or “secret sauce.”

All it takes is one golden egg to turn a startup into a conglomerate.

How do I make sure what is mine stays mine?

The safest way? An employment contract term that is very specific. Whether it is regarding any product you create on company property, with company equipment, on company time, or any combination of the three.

A company does not automatically own it just because you created something while you worked for them. But the above factors are looked at when there is not a term that governs the issue. If I hired a second shooter for a wedding and the next day they took a picture of their new car when they got back from the wedding, I can’t just say I own that picture because it was the same weekend. But if I loan them a camera and it’s a shot of the venue that the venue offers to buy from them, maybe that’s a different conversation.

Sometimes an employer will make it a point to say “everything you make during this time is ours.” There is nothing illegal about that term, but here is a tip: if they want absolute control and ownership of everything you might otherwise have an IP right to, make them pay for it.

Like we always say, your IP can be worth something, make sure it stays yours when it should. If you’re an employer who is interested in knowing how to better make your employment contracts with this in mind, contact Eden Law PLLC today through our website portal.


Written by Christian R. Dudley


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