Employees and Students: Who Owns Your Invention?

Sep 19, 2019

Independent inventors typically don't have to worry about the complex nuances of idea ownership. But what if you are an inventor who created something while under the employ or supervision of someone else? 

A large portion of patents are held not by independent inventors, but by corporations and universities. So how do you sort out intellectual property and ownership accordingly when you find yourself in one of those scenarios? Here we will break down the legal aspects of patent ownership from the point of view of an employee and a student, two common roles in which inventors find themselves.  

Employees 

Just because you invented something, doesn’t mean that you necessarily own the patent to it. This can particularly be the case with employees of a company, such as employees who code software. The most important thing for employees to do is check their company’s employee handbook and their own employment contract. This should tell you if you have ownership rights to patent what you invented. If you were hired directly to invent something for the company, then you wouldn’t own the invention. When working on something, it is crucial for an employee to know their rights and what they should and shouldn’t do. If you’re an academic researcher or grad student who was hired by a university for the purpose of creating something for a professor, then you should also know your legal rights.

In all cases, employees must be careful to not use company property, equipment, code, or time in order to work on a side project, or the company could claim ownership of what they are working on. Transparency with employers and knowing legal boundaries can help employees avoid IP infringement in the workplace.  

Students

The learning environment, whether at a high school or collegiate level, is a breeding ground for learning, fostering new ideas, and practical application. This is the perfect place for a new product or invention to come to fruition. When this happens, however, who owns the patent? The product could be created under the tutelage of a school course, where the institution might have claim for the patent. This could occur in a course or internship, where the student creates the product using school resources and potentially spends time working on it out of class or off campus. Students should research their school’s patent policy in order to know where they stand.

Many students have brought ideas to life while in school that they patented in order to build a future career for themselves as inventors or entrepreneurs, so it is doable. The USPTO has even contracted to work with the law schools of certain universities in order to help them provide legal services and patent assistance for students in similar situations. 

If you’re working as a student or employee and have an idea for a patent, Global Patent Solutions can help determine whether there's prior art already in existence. Our patent professionals have helped many inventors and entrepreneurs in the early stages of their ideas and can assist you as well. Contact us today to get started.     



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