During the workday, an employee might create a wide range of intellectual property. But who maintains ownership rights to that intellectual property: the employee or the employer? “Within the scope of their employment, people may come up with many new ideas stemming from the demands of their job,” Khalifeh said. “A designer may make an ad poster or a new garment design, whereas an engineer may invent a new widget.”
While those creations might have been entirely conceived of and developed by the individual employee, oftentimes, they are generally owned by the employer. According to William H. Honaker, an intellectual property attorney at Dickinson Wright, there are four types of workplace intellectual property that are most common.
“Intellectual property in the workplace is typically thought of as falling within four broad categories: patents, protecting inventions; copyrights, protecting creative works; trademarks, protecting a company’s reputation; and trade secrets, protecting what a business can keep secret,” he said. “As a general rule, an employee might own patents or copyrights, but not trademarks or trade secrets,” Honaker added. “Trademarks and trade secrets depend on use and procedures that are tied to the employer, and don’t exist independently of the employer.”
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However, the exact nature of intellectual property rights in the workplace is largely dependent upon any agreements or contracts an employee signed as part of the onboarding process. Just because an employee might retain patent and copyright ownership doesn’t necessarily mean that is the case.
Key takeaway: Intellectual property rights in the workplace heavily favor employers. However, the terms of signed business agreements could influence who owns intellectual property.