Can a company patent my invention if I never agreed to give them the rights? 5 Answers as of November 18, 2010

I invented something while I was working for a company. It was related to their business, and they knew about it, but we did not have any agreement that they would have the rights to what I created. I am in the process of patenting it, and I just found out that they are trying to patent it also! They say that I could not have invented it without them, but I did not use any of their materials or secrets. Do they have any right to my invention if we never had an agreement for me to give them the rights to my inventions?

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Fish & Associates, PC
Fish & Associates, PC | Robert D. Fish
This is a state law question, and the answer will vary from state to state, as well as with respect to the specific facts of the case. In general, if you invent something that is within the scope of your work, or using information gleaned from your work, the company will own the intellectual property rights. For example, if you are an engineer with responsibilities for developing electronic products in a given field, then in most states any electronic product you invent in that field while you are working for the company will likely be owned by the company, whether or not you have an agreement to that effect. On the other hand, if you are a receptionist with no responsibilities for developing products, you don't use any information gleaned from the company to develop the invention, and you do the invention entirely on your own time, it is possible that you would own the intellectual property related to that product. In California, for example, see California Labor Code section 2870.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/18/2010
Kafantaris Law Group
Kafantaris Law Group | Theo Kafantaris
Inventorship and ownership of a patent are two separate things. If you contributed to the invention, you must be named as an inventor. This, however, does not mean that you will be the owner of the invention. There are many factors that can dictate whether you will be the owner of the invention, and I suggest you contact a patent attorney for more information.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/17/2010
Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
Look to see if you gave the rights away by agreeing to be an employee. It may be covered under the employee handbook. Many employers do this. Otherwise it is your invention and they cant patent it since they are not the original inventor. If there are problems contact a patent attorney.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 11/17/2010
Michael M. Ahmadshahi
Michael M. Ahmadshahi | Michael M. Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Esq.
As a general rule an employee may not patent an invention that is made or conceived by the employee during his/her employment utilizing the company's equipment, supplies, facilities, etc., which relate to the company's business, work or research, and which result from the tasks the employee is assigned to perform during his/her employment. Having said that, you should consult an attorney to determine whether under the circumstances you're entitled to the invention.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/16/2010
Devon & Associates
Devon & Associates | Marcia A. Devon
If you are an inventor, by statute, the company cannot legally file the patent application without your approval and signature. However, anyone can write something on a piece of paper and file it with the Patent Office. You should retain an attorney if your invention is valuable (which it may be, as both of you are applying for a patent). Your question regarding ownership of the patent is a complex and is the central legal question in your case.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/16/2010
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