Invention is often the first step on what eventually becomes a patentable idea. But inventors and owners aren’t always the same, and businesses need to understand the difference.
You brought the right people in for their ability to create and innovate, but they aren’t likely to get where they’re going without your teams, your processes and your resources. Once you formalize those ideas into a patent, they usually take on the characteristics of property. Assuming you own the property created by those under your direction can lead to dangerous omissions that can leave you empty-handed.
The argument of ownership can boil down to the details. There are some important questions to ask when looking at who has what claims:
- Who does the application name as the inventor, and who as the owner?
- What contracts do you have in place for employees and their creations?
- Does the patent apply to things outside your company’s normal operations?
Who comes through the process as the owner will generally have the rights when it comes time to talk business. It’s the owner who can make important decisions regarding intellectual property:
- Licensing: Whoever has their name at the top of the patent can dole out licenses. You may not have any say in who gets to produce products based on inventions you don’t own.
- Leaving: An inventor with ownership of a patent could leave your employ and profit from their ideas elsewhere.
- Launching: Inventors that leave and form their own companies may have competing products heading to the shelves.
While you may be able to argue that you have some rights when something is invented by those on your payroll, it could take a good deal of time and money to do so without an agreement or contract.
Make sure you understand who has control over the ideas crafted by those you employ, and you may know how to keep your company creations close after patent application.