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Do you own your employees’ ideas?

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2022 | Intellectual Property & Trade Secrets

As a business owner, you know that you may need to apply for patents and trademarks when you come up with an intellectual property of your own. This is how you keep other businesses from using it, and it’s important to protect your IP because it is so valuable to your company.

That said, you also have employees who work for you. Perhaps they work in the research and development portion of your company, or maybe they just work in the office. If one of these employees comes up with an idea, does that intellectual property belong to them or to you?

For instance, say that an employee comes up with an innovative new way to make your product even more beneficial to the consumer. Can you implement those changes and then patent it under your own name? Or does the employer have the right to keep that idea for themselves or even leave your business and start a competing business based on the innovation?

Generally, you still own the idea

On the whole, the rule of thumb in the United States is that the employer still has ownership of the invention, idea or innovation that the employee came up with. This is true when they had that idea while they were on the job or when they were using data, equipment or facilities owned by the employer.

In other words, if you facilitate a situation in which the employee can come up with the innovation, then it belongs to you and the company, not to that individual employee. They would only have a right to intellectual property that they came up with on their own.

You can imagine how this can lead to some very serious disputes, however, so make sure you know exactly what legal steps you’ll need to take.