Thursday, July 07, 2005

Employee Intellectual Property Rights

Hey all!
Comment posted yesterday..

Farida wrote: "..but at the end of the day you still "work" for the company and everthing you do and accomplish belongs to them."

I think this is an underlying assumption that is not necessarily "true." Is it possible that everything you do and accomplish does not belong to "them?"

To address this question that someone sent it yesterday I did some research so as to have my facts in order. I agree with your comment...I did make an underlying assumption but it was based on my knowledge of employee intellectual property rights since I am in an environment where our knowledge is the organization's intellectual capital.

This blog for instance is a good example. No one at APQC puts any effort in this blog other than me. I rarely even use APQC physical resources (explicit content written by me or others in the company) when writing this blog but my experience comes from working with APQC customers. So I consider this blog to be APQC intellectual property and if I leave APQC I would leave the blog behind and start a new one wherever else I go.

Anyone, if I am mistaken about this assumption please speak up.

So back to the research...I looked on the SHRM Website for some guidance and in an article called "Whose Knowledge is it anyway" from their October 2001 issue they state, and I quote:

"The U.S. Copyright Office defines work made for hire as “work prepared by an employee within the scope of employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer … is considered to be the author.” Recent court cases in this area, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in The New York Times Co. v. Tasini (No. 00-201), have focused primarily on freelancers and could have been resolved with sound employment contracts."

I interpret this legal jargon as "if you create something when you are employed by a firm and that something is within the parameters of your daily job, then it belongs to the firm."

So having said that, I must mention that this article had a few other interesting points. One was that of the future struggle that employers are going to have with this issue of intellectual property because some employees are starting to get creative and their creativity is making money for the company but the solutions are outside the norms of intellectual propoerty.

For example, Fortune magazine recently reported that several Wall Street brokers had set up a web site outside their firm to attract and advise clients. The initial reaction would be that this was a clear violation of Securities and Exchange Commission rules, the site should be shut down and the employees fired. But are not such enterprising employees what you want? What if the top 20 percent of salespeople at a company had their own web sites? Who owns the customer relationship—the employee or the firm? Remember, all of these employees are working to enhance the bottom line of their employers. For all those “customer-centric” companies, is this not the exact behavior you want from your employees?

The article then goes on to mention that because of these new ways of working (Web sites, employee-owned businesses) HR is going to have to reformulate the old rules of work product ownership in order to encourage employee creativity and increase employee retention.

I think that's exciting stuff. As I mentioned this information came from the SHRM site at There are two articles I referred to, one titled "Whose Knowledge is it anyway" and the other one is called "Inside Job in the same edition.
If this topic interests you and you have a SHRM membership check these out.