Reminder: When Ditching Your Company To Build A Competing Product, Don't Discuss It On Work Computers

from the just-a-suggestion dept

Earlier this year, we noted that Yahoo had sued some former employees after they jumped ship (as a group) to another company — but discussed the move using Yahoo’s instant messenger before moving on — allowing Yahoo to claim that the group took trade secrets with them to the new company. While it seems particularly short-sighted to use Yahoo’s IM product while at Yahoo to discuss such things, if you’re using a company’s computers, it really doesn’t matter what tool you’re using. VentureBeat notes that Iconix has convinced a judge to issue an injunction against a startup, after Iconix reviewed instant messenger messages between two former employees while they were still at the company discussing their plans for the new company. In the messages, one of them even admits that he’s confused over which company they are talking about. It probably does happen all the time, but if you’re planning on jumping ship from your current company, you should probably find some other way to discuss it.


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Comments on “Reminder: When Ditching Your Company To Build A Competing Product, Don't Discuss It On Work Computers”

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14 Comments
Jay says:

Re: Re:

Errr, how about privacy laws on speech. If you talk about stealing company stuff and your boss is in the next partition, does he/she leagaly have to turn a deaf ear?

No, you just don’t talk about such stuff where others can hear. It’s called common sense. Don’t rely on the law rather than your own common sense. That’s how laws get so @#$%#$’ed up.

Donald Duck (user link) says:

They could have used something more private

Even a dolt would know that the IM’s was on a company computer. That is the KEY here is that was a company computer for them to CRACK into? They might have signed that right over and knew that their im’s was being read.

I mean they worked their, wouldn’t they know that HP taught a lot of people how to deal with LEAKS and turn coats. lol

AndrewG (profile) says:

So does that mean you can’t talk to anyone through their company phones out of fear you might be recorded?

This is all pretty stupid. Unless there was a non-compete clause, it’s just another case of the corporate giants squashing the competition because they can afford lawyers. You can’t say that because somebody discussed an idea while on your computer, it automatically is your property. I can just as well type a letter on that computer, print it on the company printer, and mail it to my friend. Are they going to try and argue that the letter is their property and/or idea and confiscate it?

Does that mean anything students come up with on those school-owned laptops are technically the schools thoughts and ideas? Soon they’ll try to claim if your logged into a chatroom on a certain companie’s server, they have rights to whatever you say since it’s happening on their computer…

Frank says:

Re: This is all pretty stupid.

You can’t say that because somebody discussed an idea while on your computer, it automatically is your property.

Actually, a company probably can. Every technology company that I’ve worked for had a clause that any ideas that I came up with on company time or using company resources was theirs.

Frankly, that’s only fair. They are paying me a good salary. Part [most?] of that time I’m just marking time and not being all that productive. But the 2 hours a day that I am productive make up for the other 6. It would be insane to argue that the company did not own the product that they were paying me to dream up.

Does that mean anything students come up with on those school-owned laptops are technically the schools thoughts and ideas?

This is a non sequitur. There is a difference between a company paying you and you paying a school.

FireMonkey says:

Re: Re:

So does that mean you can’t talk to anyone through their company phones out of fear you might be recorded?

In a word, yes.

I can just as well type a letter on that computer, print it on the company printer, and mail it to my friend. Are they going to try and argue that the letter is their property and/or idea and confiscate it?

Yep. Anything developed, imagined, created by an employee while working within the scope of their duties, or maybe even wile working at all, is company property.

Does that mean anything students come up with on those school-owned laptops are technically the schools thoughts and ideas? Soon they’ll try to claim if your logged into a chatroom on a certain companie’s server, they have rights to whatever you say since it’s happening on their computer…

It’s not the same thing… Students aren’t (at least not usually) “Professional Students” that are compensated for their input or efforts (at least not contractually or monetarily). Education is a business, and students are, in a sense, “customers” of that business. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but it’s not your standard employer/employee relationship.

People employed by the college, however, typically don’t personally own their work. If a University research scientist comes up with a cure for the common cold, he/she would have to settle for sharing credit for the discovery, but would not have any rights or ownership of it (ie, the scientist couldn’t sell it or claim sole ownership of the IP).

I’m not saying it’s RIGHT, that’s just how it is.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have always made sure that programs I develop outside of work are exactly that – programs developed OUTSIDE of work. That includes outside of work hours, not even discussed at work until I am trying to sell it to the company. That way if they don’t want it, I can walk away with my product.

It is funny though, a friend and I just quit from the same employer this week, he was sending me emails through the company exchange server… I wondered if he could be more blatantly obvious, because that would be the first place my employer would check for things, especially considering my friend pissed my boss off majorly.

Someone says:

Non-compete agreements are illegal in California. Many companies are unaware of this fact, especially since non-compete agreements are legal in virtually all other states. However, there are two exceptions in California. Non-compete agreements are enforceable for partnerships and when someone is selling their ownership interest in a company. A related topic is the protection of trade secrets. A company can prevent the use of its trade secrets, but it cannot prevent fair competition.

james-42 says:

right Frank

Frank is right, except on his second point on AndrewG’s comment: “Does that mean anything students come up with on those school-owned laptops are technically the schools thoughts and ideas?”

In fact, yes, most schools (colleges and universities, don’t know about elementary, and high schools) have that clause, they own any work you do while enrolled, though none enforce it very hard. For instance, I think MIT only requires that they be listed on the patent.

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