By: Steven Boyne
THE FRACTIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL
This question is a redundant question, if it is my intellectual property, then by definition – I own it. True, but this question raises important issues that employers need to worry about – ownership of intellectual property. The general rule is that if your employees create intellectual property while they are working for you, the employer will own it. So, for example, if your office manager takes some pictures around the office and creates personal bios of your employees and puts that information on your website then you own that information. However, what if they created that information at night while they were not at work and technically you were not paying them? Well, now we are getting into a greyer area. So, my recommendation is to avoid this issue, by updating your HR manual to state that you own the intellectual property, and not your employees.
The more difficult question that often trips up employers is when they hire a third party to create intellectual property for you. The general rule is you do NOT own it, but you get a license to use it, even though you have paid good money for the end product. For example, if you hired a third party to take pictures of your office, and write personal bios of your employees, and then post it on your website, you do not own that information on your website, and technically you can not change it, without the original author’s permission. So, the lesson of the day is: if you ever hire a third-party to create any intellectual property, make sure you have a written agreement in place that states clearly that you own what you have paid for, otherwise, at some point you might be a little surprised.