Sunday, August 17, 2008

Employees and patents

Slashdot has an interesting thread on the [hypothetical] rights of an employee not to patent.

The set-up:

My manager woke up one morning and decided to patent some stuff I did recently. The problem is, I'm strongly opposed to software patents, believing that they are stifling innovation and dragging the technology industry down (see all the frivolous lawsuits reported here on Slashdot!). Now, my concern is: what kind of consequences could I bring on myself for refusing to support the patent process?

One commenter noted the consequences of "at will" employment. One can be fired for no reason at all. That pretty much answered the question. HOWEVER -->

one comment: First, it will depend on the state. But the simple fact is, that he developed those items FOR the company AND on company time. In just about EVERY STATE, if not ALL states, the company owns the patent (unless the author explicity excluded those BEFORE time of contract. As such, they are now asking him to submit THEIR idea to the PO. This is no different than if they ask you to take a pix of something, or back up something, or whatever. It is expected AND legal for the actions that they are asking him to do. [In passing, IPBiz notes that Utah has the most pro-employer law in the country.]

another comment: Knowingly violating a patent is treble damages, which is why they tell you never to look. [IPBiz: soooooo bogus!]

another comment was somewhat favorable to patent attorneys: and tell your boss, as well as the IP attorneys working on it within/for your company, in a paper-trail-setting medium like email, dressed up as a question of an inquisitive techno-geek wanting to satisfy his curiosity:

"So, on this flux capacitor patent thing: What do you guys make of this Heisenberg compensator design I found at this URL here? I kind of derived my design from that, is that something that would go in the prior art list we talked about during the IP attorney meeting the other day?"


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