Who Owns Patent Rights? Employer or Inventor?

Whether an employer owns a patent depends on the agreement between the parties as well as other factors.

When you create an invention while employed, who owns the right to acquire a patent: you or your employer? The general rule is that you own the patent rights to the invention unless:  

  • you signed an employment agreement assigning invention rights, or
  • you were specifically hired (even without a written agreement) for your inventing skills or to create the invention.

Even if your employer does not acquire ownership under one of these two methods, the employer may still acquire a limited right to use your patent (called a shop right) without paying you. Shop rights are discussed below. Keep in mind that simply because an individual is employed does not necessarily grant the employer ownership of the patent. Each situation must be evaluated on its own set of facts.

Written Employment Agreements and Pre-Invention Assignments

Some employment agreements have a provision requiring the employee to assign any inventions to the employer. Because these employment agreements are signed before the employee creates the invention, they are sometimes referred to as pre-invention assignments. Examine your employment agreement (or other agreements you have with your employer) to see if there are any pre-invention assignment clauses. These provisions might also be located in your employee manual or in other employee guidelinesâ

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