Employee’s Invention Laws can lead to a conflict with some employers. It’s common for companies these days, especially in the tech industry, to have employees who create products while working for them. The employee could also make an existing product, say an app, better. If it’s in the manufacturing industry, the employee’s invention may be a process that improves a machine, thereby increasing turnout and reducing manufacturing costs.
The common fact in these scenarios is that the employee had the idea that benefited their employer. So, one would expect that since the “invention” is the employee’s intellectual property, the employer has no right to it. In other words, the employee should be able to market such an invention while working for the employer or after leaving.
Unfortunately, things are not always so straightforward, especially when it comes to ownership of patent rights. There are several things to consider when dealing with employees’ inventions and employers’ rights. Our Connecticut employment lawyers at Aeton Law Partners examine the positions of the law in this article. Contact us for all your employment counseling needs and other legal services.
Who Owns an Employee’s Invention in Connecticut?
The general rule states that in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, an employer has an exclusive right over the invention made by an employee working for them. This rule is known as the shop-right doctrine. It is a defense to patent infringement that may be raised by an employer when an employee sues them based on a patented invention that was created using the employer’s resources.
This rule simply follows the notion that the employee might have created the invention, but they used the employer’s equipment and tools to do so. However, the shop-right doctrine limits the employer’s right. As a result, the employer cannot sell such an invention to a third-party buyer.
The preceding is because while the employer has a nonexclusive license to use the employee’s invention without paying royalties, the product remains the employee’s property. Thus, the employee can exploit the creation commercially by selling or licensing it to other users. But there’s another part to this general rule involving where an employee employs an employee to work on an invention.
This is common in tech industries where employees have to develop apps for their employers or fix a problem in an already developed application. Here, the law considers the nature of the employment and the employee’s duties. So, if an employee creates an invention in line with their job duty or improves an existing process, their employer has sole right over the creation.
A court would infer that since the employee’s job functions involve making the invention or devising the improvement, any resulting patent belonged to the employer. So, the employee was only doing what they were hired to do.
How Do Employers Protect Their Rights Over an Employee’s Invention?
The above positions of the law have not stopped employers and employees from fighting over rights to inventions, especially patent rights. So how do employers protect their interest and retain the right to a product?
One common way employers do this is by creating policies and implementing agreements that guarantee them ownership of any work and its intellectual property rights. The contract usually covers full-time employees and independent contractors. In addition, it covers those charged with creating technical or creative information for the company.
So, before getting hired, an employee signs away their intellectual property rights to the company as their employer. Some companies also include agreements for inventions they want to patent even after the employee no longer works for them. However, legal issues still arise between an employer and an employee over invention rights, even with these agreements. When they do, contact our Connecticut employment lawyers immediately.
What About the Invention Rights of Government Workers?
Under Connecticut law, the state has the exclusive right, title, and interest in any invention or discovery of a single state employee or group of employees. This rule applies in the following instances:
- When the invention was conceived in the performance of their customary or assigned duties;
- When the invention emerges from any state research, development, or other programs; or
- When the invention is conceived wholly or in part at state expense with its equipment, facilities, or personnel.
Contact Aeton Law Partners Today!
If you are an employer with questions about your legal rights over an employee’s invention, you should contact our experienced Connecticut employment workers. At Aeton Law Partners, our attorneys will answer your questions and provide you with all the legal help you need. So call today to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys.