Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pre-assignment of Inventions - THE ISSUES

Usually, assignment of inventions are presented as hurting the inventor/employee of a company. I say that they hurt, in equal size the revenue of the companies which use them (the vast majority). The issue is that either no one cares in a big company ("it's not that individual's problem") or maybe they are the less bad of all solutions. I have not thought that far, so, on this post, let me just prove why they are such a bad solution:

[Note: The thought is to follow up with a 2nd posting with potential solutions]. In the interest of time I won't explain here what this document is but feel free to Google it (and also, scroll down this posting to read the main paragraph of the one I had to sign).

- Unethical practices: say you are in a foreign country and get this nice employment offer letter from a well respected Fortune 500 US company, including salaries and a bunch of conditions that you have to meet for the offer to be valid, like passing a future drug test, proof that your qualifications are real, etc... but one little paper is missing: the assignment of inventions (AOI). The paper is then presented to you on your orientation date after you had quit your job and moved to US. And either you sign it or you can go back to your home country! Believe it or not, this is actually not a strange practice (I know for a fact). Note though, that actually. this has little to do with the AOI and has more to do with simple ethics. The issue is that not many pay attention to this and as such, things are ugly maybe without real intention behind. Curiously, we are talking about companies that rank very high, if not the highest, on ethical practices. The funny part is that when I brought this fact up with the ethical officer on my company he simply choose to ignore the email! Bottom line, this hurts the relation between company and employee, and as such, the outcome for both.

- Unfair: On what grounds can somebody ask you to give them any idea your brain has, as long as it is interesting to them, specially if it has nothing to do with the work you are getting paid for, even if it is coming from a discussion with 3rd parties, even if "whatever", for FREE. Yeah, you will get paid the same regardless you give them an idea or not, regardless of the relevance/creativity/value..., regardless if they do anything with it or not!.

- Stupid: regardless of anything, the idea is not going to get explained unless the inventor decides to and no one would ever know! What kind of contract would rely on that? Actually the contract practical application says more like: "if you have a really good idea, please, quit our company and go do it outside"

Therefore, the result is that the better the idea is, the less likely to end-up inside the company, hurting the company who created the AOI in first place. On a future post I'll try to find out if there is a better practice around this...

A sample of an AOI:
"I agree to disclose completely, promptly, and in writing to employer and I hereby assign and agree to assign and bind my heirs, executors, or administrators to assign to employer or its designee, its assigns, successors or legal representatives, any and all inventions, processes, methods, apparatus, diagrams, or any improvements (all hereinafter collectively called “inventions”) whatsoever, discovered, conceived and/or developed either individually or jointly with others, during the course of my employment with employer (including any and all inventions based wholly or in part upon ideas conceived during my employment with employer), or using employer’s time, data, facilities and/or materials, provided the subject matter is one within a field of interest of employer. My obligations under this paragraph apply without regard to whether an idea for an invention or a solution to a problem occurs to me on the job, at home, or elsewhere. I further agree that all such inventions are employer’s exclusive property, whether or not patent applications are filed thereon."

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