In 2017, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued 318,849 utility patents. Patent applications have increased by 5.2% since 2016. The total number of applications was about 380,000. This is a positive sign for inventors and innovators.
However, with the increasing power and access to technology, more people are now capable of innovation. Today’s inventors are in office cubicles, delivering presentations, making sales calls, or just everyday people.
And though it everyone has a dream of being wildly successful in entrepreneurship, most of them aren’t aware of their patent rights.
Patent rights are rights conferred by federal law on a person filing a patent. It is a proprietary law granted by the federal government.
If you’re employed by a company while creating a patent, there are several critical things you need to know about patent rights and how your employment contract may affect them. Read on to learn eight comprehensive tips to protect yourself.
Who Owns the Patent Rights?
We’ve all seen this happen. An employee works for a company. Suddenly, while walking the dog, he/she has a Eureka moment and alters or remakes a different instrument or software or rather, inserts an idea.
Then when he files a patent or tries to, his company sues him and pursues litigation against him. Businesses are extremely wary of idea theft themselves. Thus, before you read further, you must know who owns the rights to your idea.
The general understanding of the law is that in the absence of any agreement, an employer has an exclusive license to any invention or innovation created by an employee while he or she works for the said employer. If you work in a technical field you likely signed an employment contract that should have some information as far as patent rights go. (typically near sections on moonlighting)
This is also referred to as “shop rights,” where an employer can use your idea or product without paying you any royalty, fees and without liability. What gives them the right?
This right is based on the presumption that their contribution through equipment, materials and time has financed or enabled your idea.
So while you may file patent rights, your employer may still have shop rights. This law is also applicable to independent contractors, especially if the employer provided the means to innovate. It’s important to read your employment contract if you’re serious about developing technology independently of your employer. The verbiage may be far more restrictive than you think, or even no existent. But generally it will be written in favor of the employer. That said, it’s not impossible that employers may be willing to alter language that makes you uncomfortable. As always, if you do have serious concerns it can pay off to consult an attorney.