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Dealing With an Overly-Restrictive Intellectual Property Policy? 467

Posted by timothy
from the they'll-take-a-mile dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I am very happy with my current job, but there have always been a few ideas for things I've wanted to develop on the side. Ideally I'd keep my day job, reserving mornings, evenings and weekends to see if the side-projects could become viable. The problem is: my employer has an IP policy that states that anything I do while under their employ is theirs, even when I'm off the clock. Does anyone have suggestions about workarounds, magic loopholes, false identity for the side projects? Anything?"
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Dealing With an Overly-Restrictive Intellectual Property Policy?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:27PM (#39013491)

    Disclaimer: Where I work they are cool with "moonlighting", with the stipulation being that you must check with legal. Never been in this situation so this is largely guess work based on stories I've heard from others!

    The obvious is of course to get a new job. I'm sure lots of people are going to recommend that, but of course it is rarely that simple.. especially in this economy and you like where you are working now.

    The less obvious is to negotiate with your employer/your employers legal department. Just be cognisant of the fact that this may inadvertently force you into option 1. If the terms of your employment are there just to cover their ass.. you might be able to work something out if your ideas arn't within their business area. Just keep in mind that you are asking to work on something that you hope will lead to you resigning and pursing full time (I assume) and they may have a problem with that as well.

    I guess the real question is, how sold on your own ideas are you? Willing to risk your job?... because I really don't see a way of persuing this that doesn't end there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:30PM (#39013515)

    Next time, modify the agreement before you sign it.

  • Attorney time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:34PM (#39013545) Homepage Journal

    Time to talk to an attorney to see what is legal in your state.

    often times the 'restrictions' you are required to sign aren't actually legal and are designed just to scare you, but unless they are challenged they stick.

    If you find out its OK, with a company like that breathing down my neck id still document everything i do off hours so i can clearly show it was done on my time, with my materials if it ever came to that point. " Code section created x-date/time" "Receipts of hardware and software", etc.

  • Re:ask a lawyer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swright (202401) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:35PM (#39013555) Homepage

    Oh no, not another "ask a lawyer" question.

    As a general rule, this is mostly unenforceable and/or is trivially worked around.

    That may be, but life is a lot simpler for everyone if we can all work by mutual prior agreement.

    *all* contracts start in the favour of the people who wrote them. It's a game to make it mutually fair as much as it is to do a decent tax return or haggle for goods at the market. You may not like that it's a game (I don't!), but it is one.

  • by Anrego (830717) * on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:37PM (#39013583)

    May be fine if you have lots of experience and they have specifically saught you out...

    For the rest of the world, people are usually just happy to have snagged a job.. the last thing they are gonna do is start making waves before they even get their first pay cheque. Most "negotiations" regarding this kind of boilerplate "everyone signs it" agreement is along the lines of "your employment is conditional on your signing this, if you'd prefer not to, be sure to turn in your card on the way out!"

  • by dirk (87083) <> on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:41PM (#39013629) Homepage

    The first step should be to talk to them about it and see if they will revise it for you. I work for a company that took a boilerplate IP Policy and wanted to roll it out (like I'm sure many companies do). When they did this, I talked to them and asked them to change it because the way it was written, they basically controlled anything I did. I cited the fact that they could use it for anything from claiming rights to a novel I would write, to any invention I came up with, to even using it to force me to take down a personal website I designed for myself. They obviously replied with "but we wouldn't do that" so I asked them to change it since they had no plans to ever do any of that. I rewrote the agreement to include anything worked on during company time or anything directly related to company work, and they had no issues with that. If you are happy with your employer, and have a good relationship with them, going tot hem should be your first step. If they are reasonable (which is a big if depending on the company and area of business) they hopefully won't have any issue changing it.

  • Re:Ethics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte AT drunksnipers DOT com> on Sunday February 12, 2012 @04:44PM (#39013675) Homepage

    It's also unethical for an employer to claim ownership of something that was a) not created on request of said employer and b) where the employee was not compensated for.
    What you're basically are saying is that the dinner you make at home after work is property of the company you work for. That's rather ludicrous.

    Also... ethics... it's just like religion. Everybody has their own set of rules.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @05:12PM (#39013893)

    Simply put, they're hiring you for your mind

    No, my employer is hiring me to do work. If they can't tell me ahead of time what work they want done, they have no claim on it.

    and if you've got a great idea, like it or not you'll be thinking about it during work hours.

    I think about a lot of things during work hours. As long as I'm not wasting work time just thinking about stuff, they have no reason to complain and no right to dictate what I can or can't think about.

  • Oh no, not another "ask a lawyer" question.

    Let me rephrase every legal "Ask Slashdot" story ever: "What have your lawyers (in a sampling of states) told you, and what should I expect on the way into the initial consultation?"

  • by TheGavster (774657) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @06:20PM (#39014379) Homepage

    The feeling among engineers at my current place of employment is very similar (that the job is basically McDonald's but with much better pay and no customer interaction). While it is certainly something that an employer can encourage through policy (having salaried workers still punch an hourly clock, lack of input into future work ...), I think that this attitude represents a lot of what's wrong with the modern intellectual workforce.

    McDonald's pays people by the hour because there is a clear distinction between work and not-work, and they pay you to be in work mode for x hours. Work/life separation is more difficult with engineering work (eg, a short-order cook cannot work from the toilet, but an engineer may have a leap of insight there). I think that an effort is required from both sides to make the most of a worker's mind.

    The first step is likely best taken from the employers' side; at all of the firms I know engineers at, they punch an hourly clock and are charged vacation time when they don't make 40 hours in week. A true salaried worker should be paid a fixed sum per week, staying late when a task is down to the wire, but at the same time leaving early (or for part of the day) when waiting on data or between projects. The hourly mindset leads to people sitting around waiting for an arbitrary time to arrive, or checking out before the job is done.

  • by St.Creed (853824) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @06:26PM (#39014425)

    I used to think that as well. Until I came to be in the position to make demands and say "well, too bad" when they didn't want to meet them. As it turned out, if your demands are reasonable, you're probably going to get most of them approved.

    No contract is ever boilerplate. Sure, they have a template. Usually you will find very few people with the contract as originally proposed.

    That having said, being freelancer I can appreciate the IP issues. So what I normally do is tell people in advance which projects I'm working on, and are mine. Just titles and a very short summary. Never had a problem with that.

    I can also appreciate an employer not liking his workers to moonlight. It always spills over into your normal day job, even if it is just lack of sleep because you were so stoked from your new idea that you couldn't sleep. It always affects them. An open discussion about this, showing you understand those issues and how you will make sure they are mitigated, will usually go down well. Not always though - understand how your boss operates before doing anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @06:32PM (#39014465)

    Set up an LLC and sign over all of your intellectual property to it. When you leave your current employer, sue them and file an injunction for all work that you have done for them.

    This is not a word I care to use often, but in your case, I'll make an exception: Are you freaking retarded, or what?

  • by epyT-R (613989) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @08:59PM (#39015255)

    no, he is not not their bitch. he is their employee. there is supposed to be a difference, though in today's world things like individual liberty and life balance are dying out in favor of unhealthy social dynamics. I think the bigger point is that employers should not have the right to expect or have such control.. it blurs the line between employee and slave. agreeing to stuff in a contract under duress (which this is since the choice is work or don't eat) is morally questionable at least, and probably against the law.

  • Two choices (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dskoll (99328) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:02PM (#39015549)

    You have two choices:

    1. Talk to your employer and try to get an exemption written into your contract. If choice 1 fails, then you are left with:

    2. Quit.

  • by scsirob (246572) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:34AM (#39019427)

    You actually run the risk, even asking the question, of implying you have an idea for a product on your current companies time, that you may be thinking about (even if not implementing), so if you leave they may claim that work was done on this project on their time, and you're in violation of their agreement, and they have ownership of some of your work. The question posed could be phrased as 'i have this great idea for a product, how do I get out of having to give my employer any money for it'.

    You can get around this by posing the question differently. Simply suggest that you do not have that idea, instead one of your friends does. And your friend has asked if you could help out on the side. You are now doing the prudent thing by asking your employers legal department if they have anything against that.

Dennis Ritchie is twice as bright as Steve Jobs, and only half wrong. -- Jim Gettys