My ideas, my boss’s property

By Orly Lobel via nytimes.com   Article

“SAN DIEGO — THE big story in Silicon Valley these days is a class-action lawsuit alleging that several major tech companies, including Google and Apple, agreed not to try to hire away one another’s employees — thereby hindering workers from seeking out better-paying jobs.

But do-not-hire agreements are not the only way that corporations are taking control of their employees’ intellectual capital. … increasingly it is corporations, not people, who own inventions.

This ownership runs deeper than inventions and artistic works, extending to skills, ideas and professional ties — tacit knowledge and social relations that cannot be subject to patent or copyright under the traditional scope of intellectual property, but which corporations lay claim to at increasing rates through employment agreements.

In these agreements, companies demand that employees, from those in low-level manufacturing positions to design engineers and creative workers, sign away all their innovations, and the knowledge they will acquire during the course of employment, and refrain from competing with their employer post-employment, whether that means taking a new job with a competitor or starting their own company.

While some states place some limit on such agreements in their labor codes, for the most part, employers can demand ownership over almost all aspects of our cognitive ability — from their products to their uses — long after we have moved on to different endeavors.

Moreover, unlike other high-patenting countries like Germany, Finland, Japan and China, which require businesses to pay the inventor who assigns an invention to them, American intellectual property law lacks any requirements that employers compensate employees for the fruits of their creative labors above their regular salary.”

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