Protecting your intangible assets

The beginning of summer marks the start of a new chapter for both recent graduates looking for work and the businesses looking to hire them.

But before you dive into that growing pile of resumes on your desk, take a minute to look at your employment agreements to ensure that they adequately protect a very valuable, but often overlooked asset –your company’s intellectual property.

For obvious reasons, intellectual property agreements will vary from employer to employer. Companies that engage in significant research and development will often require their employees to sign highly detailed intellectual property agreements, while companies that do not routinely engage in such activities may use simpler contracts. But all companies will benefit from including clauses governing the ownership and use of intellectual property in their employment agreements.

Many employers who aren’t involved in technological fields neglect to include clauses governing the ownership of employee-created intellectual property in their employment contracts. But keep in mind that intellectual property is not limited to technological inventions.

Although normally the employer will own trademarks and copyrightable works created by their employees, the employer may not own inventions such as patentable business methods developed by their employees, even if those inventions are created in the employee’s ordinary line of work. A good agreement that specifically addresses the ownership of employee-created work is the best way to avoid misunderstandings concerning the ownership of intellectual property.

In addition, it is essential to include a provision governing the use of intellectual property in your employment agreements. Make sure your employees are aware that they are not permitted to use your trademarks, trade secrets, copyrighted materials, and other intellectual property for purposes unrelated to employment and outside the scope of their ordinary line of work. Be sure to reference any policies governing the use of company-owned intellectual property – such as policies governing the use of company trademarks on social media websites – in your employment contracts.

Of course, each company’s situation is unique, but all employers can benefit from contractual provisions governing the use and ownership of intellectual property. If your current employment agreements do not address these topics, talk to your attorney about how you can modify your employment agreements to ensure the continued protection of your company’s valuable intangible assets.

This article appeared in the June 19, 2014, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. © The Journal Record Publishing Co.