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Dealing With Overly-Restrictive Intellectual Property Policy #2

There was a thread on this topic a while ago: http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=148808#803842

I wonder how things work in a completely different field than software development, and I'm thinking biopharmaceutical companies.

Like in software, i suppose most of their employees do routine jobs, not groundbreaking research.
But some of these employees do innovate and create extremely valuable stuff (like millions or billions).

So, as an example, who owns the intellectual property of a pill who cures most forms of cancer?
The company or the employee?

What if the employee developed it during his spare time? Perhaps while studying / working at home.
Does the company own the invention then too?
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 1:15pm
The company of course if they produce pills/drugs.

Maybe not if they produce dice on chains.

If it's your job description and it didn't work this way then as soon as you had a great idea of value to the company you'd just leave and take it with you.

And try and sell it back to them even.
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 9th, 2012 1:45pm
Commenting on the original thread, i suppose the reason for these "company owns you" contracts is more likely to be based on Peter's considerations than Idiot's initial guess.

1) Idiot's initial guess: people sign these kind of contracts because they are unskilled and have no other options.
2) Peter's insight: [top managers] of large companies are scared that one or more of their employees will [worth billions]. By making employees [sign these] "contracts" they can feel less terrified that the next great idea will get away from them.

Perhaps weirdly, they both are right :D

But the initial premise is #2. And then, #1 kicks in place:
- These employees may be unskilled, but this doesn't rule out being very, very bright.
- And indeed, they are cornered and have little other options.
  They COULD work at any time for a shoeshop or whatever dull and uninteresting enterprise would hire them.
  But they don't WANT to work there. They wanna do quantum physics, biochemical engineering or high frequency trading.
  And as entry level, these businesses make you sign these kind of contracts.
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 1:46pm
MobyDobie also has a good point:
- Take marginally probabilistic stuff for a small company, like employees claiming intellectual property for stuff which isn't theirs, for example stealing the company code :)
- Multiply it 100 fold.

What you get is *always* recurring stuff.
So you have to understand an Enterprise's right to protect it's competitive advantage too.
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:04pm
Probabilistic theory also supported by Bored Bystander: "It sounds paranoid and stupid to us but in a tiny number of cases it probably happens (the ex employee cleans out the old place.)"
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:05pm
I think a lot of it has to do with establishing absolutely "clear title" to IP, particularly with respect to to third parties. It's the "work for hire" doctrine in the US on steroids and taken to the ultraviolet level.

The employee IP agreements tie up every conceivable way that an employee could inadvertently innovate. So that the company gets to pick and choose what it wants to pursue.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 9th, 2012 2:06pm
> Idiot: Anyone that knows ANYTHING at all about development can find another job easily.

Another quote in support of my theory that (at least some of) the people signing these contracts don't want *anything*. They want THAT THING! :)
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:09pm
>> Bored Bystander: The employee IP agreements tie up every conceivable way that an employee could inadvertently innovate.

Yeah, that pretty much summs it up :)

But then, how the heck do companies expect their smart people to do just that - INNOVATE? Since the contract states (in every conceivable way) that once they do that, they'll be ripped off by the company?
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:15pm
I wouldn't offer "The Company" anything as the cure for cancer (would rather die myself from it) if all I'd make out of it would be some handshakes and an engraving with my name :P
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:19pm
>> less is more: I also, in a courteous way, defined my personal codebase and struck agreement on demarcation.

Sometimes it's not possible to struck that line.
Say "They" want to find the cure for cancer (make zillions, whatever).
Say "I" want to to find the same cure for cancer (make zillions if that's what it takes, whatever).

There's no demarcation. "I" will make those zillions. But only if he gets back a healthy piece of them :P
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:32pm
> But then, how the heck do companies expect their smart people to do just that - INNOVATE? Since the contract states (in every conceivable way) that once they do that, they'll be ripped off by the company?

Because they'll be "kept" (like a pet, or like a "kept woman") by the employer.

Because in between where the smart person happens to be right now, and that future date at which the person would think he'd reap the personal rewards of his own work, there is a small matter of having the income to pay for living expenses.

So they sign off their rights in exchange for a wage.

They can keep their rights, but then they have to figure out how to support themselves.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 9th, 2012 2:36pm
Sorry, quoting from the previous thread :P

>> Bored Bystander: the employer will exempt some specific aforementioned project that you have in mind.

Grammar is difficult.

Project -> Company Project | Own project
Company Project -> Make money
Own project -> Find the cure for cancer
Find the cure for cancer -> Make money
Make money -> Find the cure for cancer

That's an infinitely recurring situation.
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:39pm
>> Idiot's latest words from the previous thread: ask them to clarify that they are paying me for 3 full years of labor with full benefits for not working during the time I am not allowed to work.

Yeah, i have that (for 2 years). Couldn't give a shit when i know my stuff is worth 2000 years.
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 2:50pm
>> Troglodyte: you'd just leave [,] take it with you [and] try and sell it back to [even] them.

So if that way is wrong, the other way has to be right... right?

You cannot leave, can't take anything with you and they won't pay you in the first place [let alone afterwards].
Permalink Io 
March 9th, 2012 4:24pm
Your employer pays you to innovate FOR THEM.

If you have a great idea that is not in "your line of work" then leave and set up your own business.

If you have a great idea that is in your line of work then provided you didn't tell anyone else you can still obviously leave , set up on your own and pretend that you had the idea after you left.  And obviously this happens all the time.

I find bizarre the idea that you can be *employed* to do knowledge work in some field and somehow still own the IP you generate in that field.

You can't distinguish between the "company's time" and "your own time" for IP work because we can't see inside people's heads.  And people lie when it's to their advantage.

The contract of employment is what it is because the company is offering you employment on those terms.  If you don't like them, as eveyone keeps saying, negotiate to change them before accepting employment or don't work for them.

It is the employer's management's responsibility to forsee IP ownership problems and provide for them in the contract.

The drug thing is a good example - you are unlikely to be able to create a cure for cancer without the use of millions of dollars worth of facilities.

If you believe otherwise you are entirely free to go for it on your own.
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 10th, 2012 5:23am
By the way, no "manager of a large company" is "scared that their employees would make billions"..

It is part of *their job description* to ensure that the relevant IP you generate while you are employed remains the property of the company.

It's the fundamental nature of employment in our field.  You are employed and paid precisely to generate ideas (and encode them where applicable) just as if you were being paid to make biscuits.

The problem arises because this work occurs in our heads so it's no longer possible to

If the contracts weren't the way they are, programmers would spend half (ha!) their time at work thinking about their own pet projects.  Of course we all know this never happens.

Why should they pay you for that?
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 10th, 2012 5:35am
possible to ... know that "these code biscuits were formulated at home".
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 10th, 2012 5:36am
Once again I find myself in mind meld with Troglodyte. Yeah, it's that simple. That's the "arrangement". Case closed.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 10th, 2012 12:23pm
So let's say that you were hired as a programmer.  Your position changed over time and developing software is no longer in your job description nor part of your job title.  Does the company stlil have the right to your IP?
Permalink . 
March 10th, 2012 12:41pm
Very likely yes, unless you have negotiated a new contract that clearly modifies or replaces the original contract.

I'd guess it's unlikely what you're doing is far enough removed from IT for any IT-related IP not to be in play.

Unless you're the staff restaurant chef now or something obviously..
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 10th, 2012 2:02pm
>> Troglodyte: The drug thing is a good example - you are unlikely to be able to create a cure for cancer without the use of millions of dollars worth of facilities.

Yeah, i picked the pharmaceutical company example specifically to emphasize the role of company's money, facilities and domain expertize in the value an employee is adding on top of that.

>> Troglodyte: If you have a great idea that is in your line of work then provided you didn't tell anyone else you can still obviously leave, set up on your own and pretend that you had the idea after you left. And obviously this happens all the time.

One should be an imbecile or a hopeless lunatic not to do that in case of a genuinely great idea.

The problem is Sturgeon's Law ("ninety percent of everything is crap") and i think that's what you and Bored Bystander are trying to say. It would be a guaranteed way to endless law suits resulting in bankruptcy if every "90%" employee would have the option of claiming intellectual property rights for his shit. So I tend to agree these kind of contracts are a (sad, if you're an idealistic) necessity in the real world we're living.
Permalink Io 
March 11th, 2012 12:53pm
No, not what I was trying to say.

The employer is entitled to 100%, Sturgeon's Law has nothing to do with it.
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 12th, 2012 4:55am
Well, fuck the employer's entitlement then :P
Permalink Io 
March 12th, 2012 5:03am
> It would be a guaranteed way to endless law suits resulting in bankruptcy if every "90%" employee would have the option of claiming intellectual property rights for his shit.

Yes, that's pretty much what I meant. Another way of saying that "clear title" is a good thing for the business.

The employer considers whatever the employee does in his off time that is similar to his day job to be "leakage" of company intellectual assets.

There's a way out of this - hire on as a contractor, and then you can usually erect a strict firewall between things you do on behalf of your client and things you do for other business interests. But, at least in the US, the contracting market is generally dead. Businesses want total control, so they usually want employees.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 12th, 2012 4:34pm
I told a company I wouldn't sign something like that. They hired me anyway.
Permalink JoC 
March 13th, 2012 3:49pm

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