Can Employers Own Your Thoughts?

from the so-much-for-the-free-agent-economy dept

Salon is running a very good wrap-up of the case Evan Brown lost to Alcatel, concerning whether they owned the rights to an idea he developed on his own time. The article, while sympathetic to Brown, does cover the issues on both sides of the case, suggesting that Brown made some mistakes in dealing with the situation — though, all of those appear to be honest mistakes almost anyone might make. Still, with so many people working on random side-projects all the time, does it put employees at risk of somehow being stuck with the company they currently work for to avoid having to deal with a lawsuit? The article offers some suggestions for anyone else in a similar situation, but the best one might be what a number of readers here suggested last year when a similar case (involving Apple) came to light: when you’re offered an employment contract cross out the section that says they own anything you create while employed there.

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Comments on “Can Employers Own Your Thoughts?”

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thecaptain says:

No Subject Given

Many employers try and have that clause.

My first interview out of school was with a company like that and basically they wanted a programmer analyst, not for programming but for tech support (and offering sub-par tech support pay for it).

It was a 2 year contract for 18000$ a year (canadian), and big as day, that clause was there. I took it home and had a lawyer friend of the family look at it. Basically ANYTHING that ever produced any commercial benefits was OWNED completely and totally by the company (even if in an unrelated field…this was a company who developped alarm/monitoring systems).

I asked my interviewer, “so the way this is worded, if I decide to write a novel in my spare time, the company owns it?”. His quick response “Yes. That’s correct. But we would work with you for ‘equitable’ compensation, I mean we don’t have to, but its fair.” They outright refused me crossing out the clause, “Its a legal thing” he said.

Instead of saying no and laughing in their face, I told them I’d take the job, IF they quadrupled the salary because I told them that that clause meant in effect that I was working FOR them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and if that’s what they wanted, they could pay me for it.

Talk about an alarming trend.

PhilTR says:

Body and soul

The way many employment contracts are worded the employee is being paid for 24 hours a day 7 days a week. In effect you’re always on the clock. Never believe an employer or for that matter anyone who presents you with a contract and says it can’t be changed (re-worded.) That is a bald-faced contemptuous lie. As long as the parties (to the contract) are not breaking the law and in particular as long as there is no intent to defraud the parties are free to do what ever they damn well please.
Usual lamer caveat, IANAL
Organized religion: Old farts preying on man’s fear of death and dying, making promises that are empiracally unverifiable, encouraging you to believe giving them a lot of money is a good thing, none of which is taxabe.

CT says:

You've got to watch it

The last time I signed a contract to do work-for-hire as a technical writer, I ran into this astonishing paragraph that stated, in black and white, that the company employing me owned EVERYTHING I created while employed there. Didn’t matter whether I did it on work time or my time, on my own equipment or theirs, they had a lock on my brain output. Since I have published several books, and also worked as an adjunct assistant prof at a local university, I refused to sign unless they removed it. And they did. But jeez – the chutzpah of these corporate jackals is beyond belief.

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