Intellectual Property Law: Understanding Invention Assignment Agreements

If you are a business owner who employs individuals who will be creating intellectual property of any type, it is absolutely essential that you understand (and use) invention assignment agreements. To put it simply, these agreements ensure that any inventions or concepts that the employee (or third party contractor) creates while working for you, will belong to your business.

As with most legal concepts, however, it is not always as simple as having an employee sign one of these agreements. You need to know which situations are covered and which are not to ensure your actions are legally compliant. In addition, making sure the employee knows the details of what they are signing is also going to be important.

Which Inventions Are Covered?

When looking at California legal codes, you will find that invention assignment agreements provide the employer with the intellectual property rights to anything that the employer creates while working for your company. If the employee meets the following conditions, however, they would retain the ownership of the invention:

  • Employee’s Personal Time – The invention must be worked on exclusively on the employee’s own time.
  • Employee’s Equipment – Any equipment that is used to make or develop an invention must not be the property of the employer.
  • Unrelated to Employer Intellectual Property – This is where the law can get a little difficult to hash out. If the employee is using ideas or information that are owned by the employer, then the intellectual property belongs to the employer. Determining where ideas or concepts came from, however, is often quite complicated.

It is important to clarify that if the employee uses the employer’s time, equipment, or intellectual property even a little bit, the invention is legally going to belong to the employer in most cases. Of course, if there is a dispute the decision will likely be left to a judge, but the California laws are quite clear on this subject.

Signing Invention Assignment Agreements

As an employer it is critical that you have all employees and contractors sign an invention assignment agreement prior to beginning any type of work for your company. If you have employees that have not yet signed the agreement, an attorney may be able to write up a retroactive agreement to provide the needed protections going back to the original date of hire.

Invention assignment agreements will not only provide employers with the protections they need, but will also help employees by ensuring they understand their rights and responsibilities. Having a custom invention assignment agreement written up for your business is a great way to ensure your intellectual property, both presently developed and developed in the future, is properly protected. Contact Integrated General Counsel today to learn whether your company could effectively utilize Invention Assignment Agreements and what you should do to get started.

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