Who owns the rights to a patent? The employer or inventor?

Generally the person who completes the patent application is the owner of the patent and granted the rights it secures. However, in the case of an inventor who creates a process or item while employed by a company, there may be some discrepancy in who owns the patent rights. If you are ever unsure about filing a patent application, a California patent attorney can help explain the process and your right to file.

Your Job Function Plays a Role in Patent Rights

The biggest exception to your patent rights as an inventor is your specific job function within your company. If your employer hired you to invent something or solve a problem, your invention or solution is then considered property of your employer, as they paid you to produce the item in question.

There are also instances of patent rights being assigned to the employer when the employee responsible for the patented material was entered into an express contract that assigns the employer the patent rights to their inventions. This sort of contract is normally developed and agreed upon at the beginning of the employees’ time with the company.

If you are considered a company officer by your employer, typically an invention you create will be owned by your employer. The officer of a corporation has a fiduciary duty to assign the patent rights of all inventions created by him/her to the corporation. This is regardless of where the invention was created.

What are my patent rights if I invent my item/process at home?

There’s still a lot of gray area regarding patent rights for inventions developed at home on your own time. A professional California patent attorney will be able to evaluate each case for its unique situation and help you determine your patent rights if you are seeking to patent an invention while employed by a company. 

In most cases, the patent rights to the invention will be yours as long as you can prove that it was done on your own time with your own facilities and materials. However, there may be some cause for investigation if your invention includes use of any company trade secrets or similar processes found in your job function.

“Shop Rights”

Even if you have obtained the patent rights to your invention, your employer may retain “shop rights” to your patent. Shop rights entitle your employer to use your invention without charge (or royalties) and without liability for infringement. This right is based on the employer’s presumed contribution to the invention through materials, time or equipment.

In general, an employer has shop rights to your patent when they have financed the development through payment of wages and/or provision of materials, tools and workspace. You as the inventor and patent holder retain your patent rights to issue licenses and sell the patent to third parties. However, even if you sell the patent, your employer may retain its shop rights to the patent.

Independent contractors are also included in consideration of an employers’ rights to a patent. Even though they are not considered an employee of the company, an independent contractor may find the patent rights of their invention belong to the company that hired them, especially if the company furnished the means to create the invention.

The California patent attorney team at the ADLI Law Group P.C. are experts in patent application, trademark and copyright services. With clients across Los Angeles county and even as far as our international clients in China, Taiwan and Japan, we’ve helped hundreds of inventors secure their ideas. Contact us today for experienced help with securing the patent rights to your invention. (213) 290-4933