I have a dispute over an Intellectual Property Agreement for a software company I am contracted through. How do I resolve this?



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Question:

I work in the information technology field as a software designer.  My current job as an independent contractor is full-time for one corporation.  I recently invented a new software application that I will be marketing.  The company who I contract for is claiming they have the intellectual property rights to my design.  I say they don’t because I am not an employee.  Who is correct?

Answer:

The right to any work automatically belongs to the author of the work.  Under the U.S. copyright law’s work-made-for-hire doctrine, the author might be the company who contracted for the work or by employing the person who created the work.  If the programmer created the work as part of his or her job as an employee, then the employer owns the work.  Most corporations require their employees to sign an intellectual property agreement prior to their employment.  If you did not sign such an agreement, it’s doubtful that the company can make a valid legal claim to work that you did on your own.

However, if you designed your software application utilizing any of the company’s resources, the employer can argue that they may be legally entitled to ownership of your design.  The employment status of any hired person is open to challenge and interpretation by the court.  If the company allowed you to telecommute from home, this presents a larger problem in that the company can state that you had access to all of their resources, even when you were working at home on your own design.

This is a very complicated area of law and one that is still being defined as we move further into the information age of technology.  I would suggest consulting with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law in order to obtain a thorough evaluation of your particular case.

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