Intellectual Property clauses: A must for employment contracts

January 31, 2011

It is prudent to deal with intellectual property expressly in the consultancy agreement.

Employment contracts, as well as contracts with any contractor, consultant or designer should include a clause dealing with intellectual property. Without an intellectual property clause to protect the employer's rights, employers may find that they do not own the rights created by, for example an employee, or worse, that the employee is entitled to extra payments.

When considering including an intellectual property clause, employers should be aware that employees and consultants are treated differently in relation to the ownership of intellectual property rights.

Employees

There is a statutory presumption in the United Kingdom that intellectual property created by an employee during the course of his or her employment is generally owned by the employer. Therefore, some say that there is no need to have an IP clause in an employment contract. Whilst this may be the case in some situations, if intellectual property is not expressly dealt with in the contract of employment this can have the following consequences:

The employee has the right:

  • to be named as author on all reproductions of work;
  • to object to certain alterations to the work; and
  • to object to any derogatory treatment.

Such rights could at the very least be an administrative inconvenience on the employer if every time the work is reproduced the employee has to be named as the author. At worst, such rights could prevent the employer from adapting the works where the employee considers such adaptation as derogatory treatme.

If the employee creates something outside his or her terms of employment he or she retains ownership of the intellectual property. By way of illustration, if the employee is employed as a photographer for a fashion company but then creates a new design for a dress, the employee may be entitled to the intellectual property rights in that design as creations of dress designs are unlikely to be within the terms of employment of a photographer.

Where inventing is likely to form part of an employee's job, employers need to remember that under patent law if an invention is patented the employee may, in certain circumstances, be entitled to statutory compensation in respect of the invention. The employer cannot contract out of this right and therefore any terms in the employment contract that purport to remove this right will not be effective. However, the employer can still successfully ensure that it owns the rights to any invention, in preference to the inventing employee, by specifying in the employee's job description that their role includes inventing or conceiving of new products and product development ideas.

Consultants

Generally there is no presumption in the United Kingdom that intellectual property created by a consultant during the course of his or her employment is owned by the employer. In most situations the intellectual property is owned by the consultant unless the contract expressly provides otherwise.

Again, though this is not the end of the story as the general rule of intellectual property ownership in relation to consultants varies between the different intellectual property rights. By way of illustration, the commissioner of a design, rather than the designer, is automatically the person entitled to any subsequent registered design or unregistered design rights in the design. Whereas any copyright will by default be owned by the consultant who created the work during the consultancy.

In view of this, as with employment contracts, it is prudent to deal with intellectual property expressly in the consultancy agreement. We have briefly considered this below.

Drafting Intellectual Property Clauses

When considering what intellectual property provisions need to be in place in employment contracts or consultancy agreements some of the issues that should be covered are:

  • Clarity
    • be clear about what the employee/consultants' duties are as this can have an impact on whether the work created is done so in the course of employment;
    • have a clear statement of ownership that covers all works or inventions created by an employee or consultant;
  • Disclosure
    • consider whether any obligations to disclose inventions are needed and whether record should be kept in order to prove that the work is original and/or its date of creation;
  • Assignment
    • ensure that any assignment or license deals with existing rights and future rights.

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