# Question about Intellectual Property and Ideas (in a job as well)?

I realize that most engineering jobs are salaried work but even stuff done in your spare time belongs to the company? Why not just everything you produce after you leave the company, since without their guiding hand you probably would've never had another original idea. At least you can edit it out of the contract in most cases, but this seems entirely unfair. I suppose that consulting on the weekends is also frowned upon?

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
I realize that most engineering jobs are salaried work but even stuff done in your spare time belongs to the company?
Only if it relates to the work or services provided by the employer.

In my case, if I developed something in an unrelated area, e.g. solar energy, then I would retain rights to that work, as long as I didn't use company resources.

I suppose that consulting on the weekends is also frowned upon?
Usually, yes. When one is employed, one is supposed to be working on behalf of one's employer, especially if the work one does on the weekend is what one would normally do during the week.

If it's a completely different area outside of one's work in the company or what the company does, that's a different matter.

brewnog
Gold Member
I realize that most engineering jobs are salaried work but even stuff done in your spare time belongs to the company?

If it's something which could affect the company (either positive if used for the company, or negative if sold to a competitor), yes.

At least you can edit it out of the contract in most cases, but this seems entirely unfair.

I wasn't able to edit the term out of my contract. I thought it was a little unfair, but then I'm grateful for my job, and know that I will receive credit for any patents I earn for the company, whether or not I've developed them during my own time.

I suppose that consulting on the weekends is also frowned upon?

Not just frowned upon, prohibited by contract. In my case, I could work as a consultant in a field which my employer has no relation to, but this isn't where my expertise is.

I'm not paid a salary to work 37 hours a week, I'm paid a salary to be an employee of the company, and that means acting in its best interests regardless of what day of the week it is.

LowlyPion
Homework Helper
I suppose that consulting on the weekends is also frowned upon?

If it's in an area that directly relates to the work you do for the company, then yes. And most especially if it would be for any party that might be in competition with the company. You might want to consider being a consultant to the company and for others if you think there is a more widely marketable skill. The company may even be willing if you offer unique design skills in fact.

Also if you do say customer service and arrange to train the company's customers privately for extra cash, you would want to be sure to get permission. Most companies are open minded, and mostly interested in what advances their economic interests and if they don't offer formal training might be agreeable. But if they offer training then you can be sure that it's no.

In general you might consider that if you are on salary the company at least will think it has a claim to all your work.

mgb_phys
Homework Helper
Many people have contracts that state any outside ideas belong to the employer.
Like any contract what it means gets decided in court. The problem is that although a court might decide that if you are an engineer and take wedding photographs at the weekend these don't count - they might not understand more technical stuff.
If you are a database programmer at work and do web design at home a non-technical audience might decide these are both computers and so is part of your day job.

Educational institutions are even trickier. in UK universities it was ruled that PhD students are NOT employees. This was after an accident at Sussex where a student decided to heat benzene with a bunsen burner and blew himself up, the court ruled he should have been supervised and that he had the same health and safety status as a visiting member of the public!
Similairly universities have tried to claim that post-docs are not employees to get around limits on contract length and redundancy.
The other side of this is that my old uni has decided that it owns the IP of any idea from a student - how this will play in court if the students aren't employees is undecided.

Here's what my engineering code of ethics says:

A practitioner shall act in professional engineering matters for each employer as a faithful agent or trustee and shall regard as confidential information obtained ... bla bla bla

A practitioner must disclose immediately to the practitioner's client any interest direct or indirect that might considered as prejudicial in any way to the ... bla bla bla

And, I think it comes under ethics of code not under personal misconduct.

You might want to review your engineering code of ethics etc. I guess it is the engineering regulating bodies that punish you, not the court?

You can't have conflicts of interest. Say you are an engineer that builds engines for a company. You can't, on your own free time, design another engine and try to patent it and have it compete with your company's engine. Your company could sue the pants off you.

brewnog
Gold Member
You can't have conflicts of interest. Say you are an engineer that builds engines for a company. You can't, on your own free time, design another engine and try to patent it and have it compete with your company's engine. Your company could sue the pants off you.

This was only half of my point. The situation above is my situation. However, I can't, in my own free time, design anything at all which is related to anything my company produces (machinery, vehicles, tools, even financial products), even though I only work on engines.

It's pretty well-known that engineering companies bemoan the quality and skills of fresh graduates, saying that they have no idea how things work and can't design, etc. but it is also funny that they expect new graduates who can preform like experienced professionals for the same, low starting salary.

I am not a person who takes a job and then does the minimum amount or work for a paycheck. I work and I work very well, so it's highly distasteful that I have no chance to better my career independently of the company. For a sum of $50,000 a year they own everything I make and every thought I have? Please, this is lunacy. LowlyPion Homework Helper For a sum of$50,000 a year they own everything I make and every thought I have? Please, this is lunacy.

I think that is a little extreme, primarily because it isn't really true.

Insofar as you are solving their problems and they are paying you, they do rightly expect, if you come up with a good idea that could improve their processes, that it would be theirs. You can't really disagree with that. Stumbling on a clever way to gain a process advantage wouldn't be fair for you to go off and sell to a competitor for instance, or even not to disclose to the company in hopes of letting a license to collect over and above what they are already paying you.

However if you were writing a book about herpetology as a hobby, which had nothing to do with designing pistons or even motors or even assembly line efficiencies, and you went to publish it, then of course they would have no interest. There is a reasonableness standard.

I'm not indignant that I can't steal from companies, which selling a product that they hired you to make would be (like selling a new motor design to a competitor when you, in fact, work on that company's motors) but I'm a little mad that if I was a motor engineer with an interest in building cars or robots and I came up with something I wanted to market, I couldn't. I was under the impression that when a company hires you, it is to do a specific function, like improving factory efficiency or something, and anything you come up with in that area belongs to them.

LowlyPion
Homework Helper
I'm not indignant that I can't steal from companies, which selling a product that they hired you to make would be (like selling a new motor design to a competitor when you, in fact, work on that company's motors) but I'm a little mad that if I was a motor engineer with an interest in building cars or robots and I came up with something I wanted to market, I couldn't. I was under the impression that when a company hires you, it is to do a specific function, like improving factory efficiency or something, and anything you come up with in that area belongs to them.

When they hire you for your creativity that's a bit different than hiring you as say a receptionist. There of course you can certainly be expected to be able to answer your phone at home.

But creativity is different. It involves inspiration, innovative leaps, making something that maybe hasn't been thought of before, seeing things in a different way, ... etc. And if that's what they are paying you for, they have some expectation that they won't have to be disadvantaged if you come up with something new that may just be useful to them. I think you will find that if you come up with something that is not practical to them they will likely give you a waiver if you bother to ask.

i think the answer is pretty clear. if there is no incentive to innovate, then don't provide any innovations. do your job and go home.

russ_watters
Mentor
It's pretty well-known that engineering companies bemoan the quality and skills of fresh graduates, saying that they have no idea how things work and can't design, etc. but it is also funny that they expect new graduates who can preform like experienced professionals for the same, low starting salary.

I am not a person who takes a job and then does the minimum amount or work for a paycheck. I work and I work very well, so it's highly distasteful that I have no chance to better my career independently of the company. For a sum of \$50,000 a year they own everything I make and every thought I have? Please, this is lunacy.
I'm not clear from that whether you are out of school or not, but when you get out of school, you have nothing whatsoever with which to prove how much you are worth, so you get the standard rate. But people who are good are generally recognized relatively quickly and rewarded for it. There is nothing wrong, ironic, etc. about how that works. It's a reality that makes a lot of sense.

D H
Staff Emeritus
This is not true. Nobody would sign such a contract !
For almost every employer in the US (be it a corporation, non-profit, university, or a branch of the government), candidate employees who refuse to sign such a contract cease to be candidate employees. Everyone signs such a contract.

It's true of engineers too - and no, it's not cooking ideas, just ideas related to the job. It isn't a matter of company policy, it's the law.

That's not the law -- it is indeed a matter of company policy. Patent law is pretty clear that a patent is created by individuals, not corporations. The specific example cited in your post is the University of Texas' Intellectual Property Policy, which must be signed, dated, and witnessed. In other words, it is a contract. Once properly signed it becomes legally binding. A contract would not be needed if the law already said that IP belongs to the employer.

LowlyPion
Homework Helper
i think the answer is pretty clear. if there is no incentive to innovate, then don't provide any innovations. do your job and go home.

You can take that approach. But then again you are dead ending yourself. If your only motive is in getting compensated and you get nothing from solving problems (you know like job security, the opportunity to solve more problems) then that's your choice. It also makes you less valuable to your current employer and less attractive to a future employer. Getting laid off without a patent to your name for instance, is maybe not as good as remaining employed and being valued and getting raises and maybe even turning down opportunities for instance.

On the other hand this is based on thinking you enjoy the work. If you don't enjoy technical or creative contribution except for the money, then maybe think about doing something you do enjoy?

You can take that approach. But then again you are dead ending yourself. If your only motive is in getting compensated and you get nothing from solving problems (you know like job security, the opportunity to solve more problems) then that's your choice. It also makes you less valuable to your current employer and less attractive to a future employer. Getting laid off without a patent to your name for instance, is maybe not as good as remaining employed and being valued and getting raises and maybe even turning down opportunities for instance.

On the other hand this is based on thinking you enjoy the work. If you don't enjoy technical or creative contribution except for the money, then maybe think about doing something you do enjoy?

oh, i dunno. i suspect the companies that reward creativity survive hard times better than the ones that don't. and then you end up with creativity used in rather unproductive means, like digging in like a tick and keeping all the knowledge to yourself, making yourself "invaluable" because you're the only one that knows how certain legacy products work. you can dedicate yourself to life in a company like that, but good luck ever finding joy in life and work.

I'm not clear from that whether you are out of school or not, but when you get out of school, you have nothing whatsoever with which to prove how much you are worth, so you get the standard rate. But people who are good are generally recognized relatively quickly and rewarded for it. There is nothing wrong, ironic, etc. about how that works. It's a reality that makes a lot of sense.

I also agree with this.

My employer works full time (with about 30 people under him) and owns two-three small* companies. And, he is is pretty young I guess. (have only about 4-6 years working experience).

He also once told me that when young, he always wondered why professionals make 10 times him etc...

I'd never except to make exorbitant amounts as an untried graduate. I know that I will start out with a certain salary and then have to prove I'm worth getting a raise. The problem with trying to ingratiate yourself with companies is that people have told me it is difficult to go off on your own. I don't want to work for some company for the rest of my working life, though I would obviously have to start off that way. I want to be an engineer because I enjoy solving problems and designing things. I do not, however, want to be an engineer so I can play in the convoluted inner-workings of companies and office bureaucracy. I have no objection to work and being a valuable employee, but before I go through more years of school and massive investments of time and energy, I need to know that competence and creativity is well-rewarded in the field.

You are correct in the assumption that I am not finished with my schooling yet and I do still have a lot to learn about how the working world functions but that is why I ask questions and seek out advice. I don't know everything and I don't claim to but before I get into something as important as a career, I need to make sure that I won't hate it 20 years down the line. Sure, I have 'passion' but I've seen a lot of people go in with raw passion and come out unsatisfied and disgruntled.

I appreciate everyone that's commented on this thread, since now I have a better idea of what's involved in the field and a lot more material to ask around about :)

I'm not indignant that I can't steal from companies, which selling a product that they hired you to make would be (like selling a new motor design to a competitor when you, in fact, work on that company's motors) but I'm a little mad that if I was a motor engineer with an interest in building cars or robots and I came up with something I wanted to market, I couldn't. I was under the impression that when a company hires you, it is to do a specific function, like improving factory efficiency or something, and anything you come up with in that area belongs to them.
you always OWN your own intellectual property. companies only own RIGHTS to the intellectual property. so you get credit for your work and are always capable of noting what patents are of your design in resumes and portfolios.
also you may want to consider how many original patents you believe you are capable of producing on your own, whether or not you can sell them or produce them commercially on your own, and whether or not this will bring you 50,000 a year plus benefits plus raises each year ect.
if you think you can then there is no point getting a job in a corporation. if you think you can't but that you are worth more then ask for a raise or go looking for a new job with your portfolio showing how valuable you have been.

drankin
Just to note, it may not even be a "corporation". When I got my first patent it was with a private company. All I got is my name on it. But my company made, literally, millions with the "invention". And that's the way it should be. If I hadn't worked for them, I wouldn't have even thought of the idea. And I pride myself on being a considerable asset to any company I work with.