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What are the rights to an employee’s patent in California?

A patent is a type of intellectual property that protects a specific type of discovery or invention that is useful, non-obvious and novel. The inventor gains exclusive rights to the invention for a designated period or before assigning the patent to another party. If you are an employee and did an inventory for the company you are working for, you would probably be wondering, “Do I own the right to my invention or, does it belong to my employer?”

Typically, the inventor owns all the invention rights. However, some companies may require that their employees transfer discoveries. It is important to note that no laws require an employee to transfer their invention to their employer. Read on to learn ways of how employers can gain ownership of their employees’ inventions.

What are the ways that employers gain rights to employees’ inventions?

  • Through agreements. In some agreements, like an invention-assignment agreement, the workers agree to transfer their discoveries to their employers. They also agree to help the employer obtain protection for the invention. In most cases, the employers offer the invention-assignment agreement together with the initial employment agreement. In exchange, the employer may offer the employee some extra valuable benefits.
  • Hiring inventors. Some companies may seek to hire workers whose central role is to invent. In this case, employers could require the workers to transfer inventions rights.
  • Shop rights. These are nonexclusive royalty-free rights of an employer or company to use an employee’s patented invention whose creation they supported. This happens if the invention is work-related and the employee/inventor developed it using the employer’s equipment and resources. It is, however, vital to document all the agreements well to avoid any future dispute.

Patent inventions developed by multiple employees

If multiple employees were involved in developing the invention, each of them has the right to use, sell, license and transfer without limitation. If an employer wants to own such a patent, they must request all the employees involved in the invention to transfer the rights.

Outside contractors and inventors working at different companies

If the inventor was hired as an outside contractor, it is challenging to determine who will own the rights of the invention, especially if no initial agreement on such matters was made.

If inventors are working for different companies, the companies may agree to collaborate on inventions. Each company may use or license the invention without the interference of the other company.