Navigating patent laws can be confusing. Imagine the scenario: you work in a lab that studies plant alternatives to meat products. Through years of chemical testing and trying and failing, you have finally found a cheap alternative to meat: a delicious plant-based product that is even cheaper than meat, is higher in protein, and tastes just like it. This could change the way people eat around the world while saving the environment! Who owns the invention, though? Is it you, the creator, or the company you work for?
One thought process is that you, the inventor, poured hard work, time, and many trials into this invention. You are the first to think of this and it is clearly your invention! But, your employer provided you with all the resources you needed: the tools, the supplies, the funding, the laboratory. So how would this work?
What Are Patents?
First, it is important to understand what a patent is. When successfully filed, a patent gives the inventor of a product the exclusive rights over this product. It essentially says “I was the first to come up with this and invent it, you can’t steal my work.” An invention can be any number of things, like meatless meat, drugs, software, or machines.
So, Who Gets the Credit?
This can be a bit tricky. While you—the inventor—will generally be the owner of the patent rights on your invention, there are circumstances that dictate your employer will own the rights. These are:
- If you were hired specifically because you possess the skills necessary to create this
- If you signed an agreement upon employment that assigns invention rights to the company
In many cases, one of these two possibilities is why a company will own the right to a patent and not the inventor. Technology companies or design companies, in particular, might make an employee sign what is known as a pre-invention assignment when they are hired. This pre-invention assignment might include inventions:
- Created by an employee at any time during their work there (whether it was in the office or
- Created by the employee while they were on the clock and using company facilities
What Are Shop Rights?
In some cases, your employer could still use your invention internally even if you do have ownership of the patent—i.e., they will not sell or use that invention with a third party—without paying you a dime. Shop rights are usually invoked when the inventor creates the invention on the premises of the company or uses their tools to make it.
What Can I Do To Avoid Patent Situations Like This?
Often, navigating patent law can be extremely tricky. If you are signing on to a job where you believe you will be likely to invent a product that could be worth a great deal of money and help a lot of people out, it is best to consult with patent lawyers who can walk you through the employment agreement step-by-step. If you are unsure of whether you have rights to a patent, consult a patent attorney who can help you with an employment agreement today.