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Employee Rights to Inventions

Posted Monday, October 15, 2007 by Jim Ruttler

Within the context of an employer/employee relationship, the question often arises as to who owns the rights to any inventions created by an employee. The default rule in the United States is that absent an agreement, the employee owns rights to any inventions they conceive of, and any patent applications or patents based thereon, during the course of employment.

Therefore, when entering into an employer/employee relationship, employees concerned about their invention rights should proceed cautiously and diligently review all employment agreements, company policies, or any other express or implied agreements to ensure that their rights to current and future inventions are not compromised. Similarly, when it is intended that an employee assign his or her inventions to a company, it is important for employers to formalize such agreements at the onset of employment to ensure an employee doesn’t retain ownership rights to patent applications and issued patents. Washington law sets forth specific requirements and limitations for such agreements.

To complicate the issue, the default for copyright ownership is with the employer rather than the employee under the Work for Hire doctrine. This raises interesting issues with regards to software patents, which may be protected with both patents and copyrights.

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