If a self-motivated employee comes up with ideas and tools to improve your business processes, you could be looking at ways to capitalize on one of his or her inventions. However, the employee may have other ideas in mind.
Do you own the invention, or does your employee? It depends.
The shop-right doctrine
According to FindLaw, if you have not created an agreement with your employee regarding invention patents, the shop-right doctrine may apply. This gives you limited rights to use the patent without paying the employee royalties. However, you only have the nonexclusive license to use the invention if the employee created it while working for you. The employee still owns the invention and can sell it or license it to someone else. This applies in cases where the employee takes the initiative to create the invention.
On the other hand, if you assign the employee the task of developing and working on the invention, and then the employee wants to patent it, you may have a case for ownership of the patent. A judge is likely to rule that in inventing the device, the employee is simply doing his or her job. The court typically rules in favor of the employer in these cases.
Intellectual property agreements
The best scenario is for you to create agreements with your employees assigning the patents that they develop while working on your business. Taking this proactive step protects the intellectual property that improves your company’s business processes. It may also serve to keep your employees loyal and provide them with the incentive to stay with the company.