Inventors, Is Your Idea All Yours?
Do you know if the great idea that you have is yours or not? If you're not careful, it may be the property of the company you work for.
Our guest blogger Roger Brown is a freelance Inventor who has successfully marketed tools, toys and a kitchen utensil. You can see some of his inventions at rogerbrown.net. He shares his valuable advice with readers of AmericanInventorSpot.com some valuable advice.
Here's his article:
* * * * *
The majority of Inventors work at regular jobs and invent during their time off hoping to come up with that million dollar idea. What they neglect to find out is if their company has an invention policy. Some companies have you sign their invention policy as a condition of employment. It is normally in the stack of papers you don't read when you are more concerned about getting the job than the paperwork. You just sign anything they put in front of you so you can start working.
Right now I bet you are asking yourself "So, what does that mean to me? I invent at home." That's easy. You don't want to come up with the next hula hoop and find out the company you work for owns it after you did all the leg work and got it licensed and on the market. The paperwork you signed makes you responsible for letting them know of any ideas you come up with that might be considered proprietary by them. The only way they can determine this is by you telling them about the invention.
One option you have is to discuss this with the company before you start working for them. If you let them know up front that you are an Inventor and you will only work on ideas that are not related to your job. If you do come up with an idea that is job related you will definitely run it past them for review. If they are not interested in the idea then you are free to pursue it elsewhere Remember to always get these agreements in writing. You don't want a company getting selective amnesia once they see your invention going over well on the market and decide they want a piece of it.
You will also find company's that don't have an invention policy and have never been faced with that dilemma. This is an opportunity for you to help mold the agreement so that you are protected as well as the company.
Then you have the company that has a strict invention policy and no flexibility. That was my situation. I worked at a nuclear facility that was contracted by the Department of Energy. One of the policies they had involving an invention was that you had to give them first look at anything you planned on submitting to other companies.
This was to make sure you weren't giving away company secrets or it was an idea you came up with due to your work. If they decided it was work oriented (would fit the nuclear industry) they would file for a patent and if they licensed it you received a small portion of the royalty. I had 4 ideas that were conceived and patented through the company that were related to my nuclear work. One of them was the Super Sleever. It reduced the man-hour work load from 2 employees taking 8 hours, to one person completing the same task in less than 1 hour.
This was one of those ideas that made my job easier. The company also stated that it saved them 4 million dollars a year in reduced waste generation. I received a lot of national and local awards for this device and did get some monetary compensation. You can see it at my website http://www.rogerbrown.net
If it was deemed non-nuclear or not work oriented in nature you could ask for a release form to be completed and you were free to do what ever you pleased with the idea. One of the down sides to this system was the amount of paperwork involved and the length of time it took to get a release form completed. I would have to fill out 5 pieces of paperwork to tell my employer about my idea. They in turn would have to fill out 4 pieces of paperwork to submit to the DOE. Then DOE would review the paper work and fill out their forms releasing or stating that they wanted to pursue the idea. This process took about 4 to 5 months per idea.
Once I was aware of this requirement I went to my employer telling them I had multiple ideas they needed to process. I have to laugh at the amount of work my ideas created for them that year. They were thinking I had about 4 or 5 ideas they had to process. They didn't know how prolific I had become generating ideas. You should have seen their jaws drop when I told them it was around 107. They normally got around 60 ideas for review for the year from a workforce of over 12,000 employees. So, to get 107 from one person stunned them. If you look at the amount of paperwork I caused it breaks down to 535 pages for me, 428 for my employer and 321 for DOE. That comes to 1284 pages.
It was so funny to me that I was having to have the Department of Energy review ideas for various toys like yo-yo's, kitchen utensils, and office products. It took about 8 months, but they finally released all the ideas to me. If I had not gone through this process and gotten inventions marketed without the prior approval my employment could have been terminated for violating company policy. They would also have claim to any ideas I got on the market
So, I hope you have learned something from my experience that will keep you out of hot water with your employer. Check on your company's invention policy. If they have one get your ideas in the process as soon as possible if necessary. If they don't, get a written agreement in hand before you start submitting ideas to companies. You may also want to see if they have a compensation plan for ideas you generate that save the company you work for money.