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Looking for advice on how to approach our corporate team with the best possible outcome for me. I work for a large software enterprise that targets very strict and specific markets and does not deviate at all. We make products, and are not a consulting software firm. So anything any developer works on aligns with one of our 8 products. No little side jobs for customers.

I work as a lone researcher in which I am the only member of my team. Now I designed a piece of software in my research that will make my job a lot easier and will help our software product teams manage a housekeeping task.

Now part of this product was written on company time using company computing resources and was something I came up with and had no management input other than good feedback for creating it.

I now though see the market potential of this product and feel like it could make money on its own. The product does not belong in any of the markets we cater for as it is a software development aide, and none of our customers have anything to do with software development.

With my contract stating anything I have worked on obviously belongs to the company, how can I approach our corporate team for ownership of the IP and permission to sell outside of the company.

  • Should I be trying to offer them a percentage to have a chance at owning it?
  • Should I potentially ask for funding to get it off the ground?
  • Should I be feeling confident to be given ownership of the Intellectual Property?

Thanks in advance for your time.

closed as off-topic by The Wandering Dev Manager, Snow, Rory Alsop, gnat, scaaahu Jan 20 '18 at 14:30

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  • 4
    What do you need funding for? You have a full-time job that they're already paying you to do. This would set off red flags for me if I heard it as your manager as I'd suspect you were thinking of scaling back your time on the job. – Lilienthal Jan 15 '18 at 10:52
  • What country are you in? In Germany everything an employee invents while he is employed belongs to the employer who can then decide if he wants to use it or not (even if its invented in the freetime). At least this is the case for inventions which can be patented. If the employer uses it you get part of the money, if not you can use it yourself. I would suggest to look at local laws before approaching your employer. – Lehue Jan 15 '18 at 12:42
  • So what you are saying essentially is: "Hey employer, this is what you hired me for and paid me to do, can I have it and start it and work on it while I keep getting paid? I could sell it to you later when I finish it if you want!" - Keep it to yourself and open your own business. – Sandra K Jan 15 '18 at 16:33
  • You need a lawyer, not random strangers on the internet. Depending on locale and contract they may well already own this, you need real professional advice. Voting to close as off topic-legal advice. – The Wandering Dev Manager Jan 15 '18 at 21:03
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In general on how to approach. First talk to your manager about you as a separate business marketing directly outside the company. If he/she is OK with it then you would talk to the lawyers about the financial arrangement but it is not likely to get that far.

Regarding the second.

Should I potentially ask for funding to get it off the ground?

If your company has focused software they are not likely to want to get into the venture capital business.

Should I be feeling confident to be given ownership of the Intellectual Property?

They are not likely to just give up ownership. At best maybe a licensing or royalty type deal.

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    They aren't likely to give anything that they are not legally obligated to. The right answer. – Mister Positive Jan 15 '18 at 13:34
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Should I be trying to offer them a percentage to have a chance at owning it?

This, or some sort of flat fee arrangement to compensate them for the time and resources they contributed is your best (and probably only) viable option. They're a business not a charity so I think there needs to be something in it for them.

Should I potentially ask for funding to get it off the ground?

Unless they are very enthusiastic about an ongoing percentage based deal I think this is a complete non-starter IMO

Should I be feeling confident to be given ownership of the Intellectual Property?

I wish I could say otherwise but from what you've said here and from my own experience I'd have to say no. Even if it's not an area where they would look to commercially exploit themselves if they allow/encourage you to pursue it and then it takes off they'll be risking losing an employee that they presumably value during their own business operations. A financial incentive for it to succeed may possibly offset this but only if it's going to be worth more to them than the value you bring to their existing business.

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You are likely in the same position as the creator of the famous McDonald's Egg McMuffin. You used their time and resources, it is theirs. You have ZERO rights to it.

That said, you COULD possibly work out an arrangement where you could build a department under you to market and sell this software by negotiating a spinoff department.

You could also try to work out an arrangement where you could market it yourself and get commissions based on sales.

A third approach is that you could negotiate forming a subsidiary so that their name is not on the product, and if it takes off, they could always re-absorb the subsidiary.

Understand that any leverage you have in this comes from the fact that they don't currently handle this kind of software. Your contribution and value will be only in getting it to market. THAT is where you negotiate.

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Step back a few steps.

Don't come with the product semi-developed. That gives you a poor position to negotiate and it, as mentioned in comments, might set off some red flags.

First things first, locate the person that has actual authority to invest in this. How far up the chain is he from your boss? Take a look at your company strategy. If your suggestion is breaking off from the company strategy (if it says to consolidate portfolio or whatever is business lingo for no new products, then scrap the idea - or be prepared to take your fight all the way up to the CotB)

Take some private time, write a report or something like it on what the characteristics of the product you want to develop are and what it's business possibilities are (b2b, b2c, eventual service agreements, exposure to new or old markets, etc) Don't overdo it, but mention these things - find out where the money is potentially coming from and roughly how much are we talking about. With this short report, ask for a short meeting with your boss. Ask him for permission to go see whomever has the authority to launch something, because you have an idea. Maybe the boss can help you with leverage. Once you have the ear of whomever is in authority, say something to the tune of...

Hey boss, I have been thinking about an opportunity I have spotted. I have an idea for a new product. It will target ...(these existing customers) and possibly be relevant for ...(customers in existing market) or possibly even ...(customers in new markets). What I want to do is ....(short description). I'd like the opportunity to develop this further. What I need is to discuss it with one of our market guys and then about (rough time estimate for alpha version) of my own time. (Mention other resource needs). I strongly believe this can make money for our shareholders. What do you think? In either case, I'll send you a report of the things I have said now, I'll make it on my own time, don't worry.

Then send him the report by mail. When and if this starts getting traction, is the perfect time to negotiate. But be aware that unless you have some god given skills you'll be hard pressed to gain any ownership of anything - but you can - if you show that you know how to - be put in charge of developing and implementing. You have already shown initiative. Initiative and know-how - The companys perception of these properties in a person usually end up being career- and salary changing for that person.

In sum:

  • Should I be trying to offer them a percentage to have a chance at owning it? - NO
  • Should I potentially ask for funding to get it off the ground? - YES
  • Should I be feeling confident to be given ownership of the Intellectual Property? - NO

You should not view this as your chance for ownership, you should view this as a chance to shine. Get it off the ground, get customers satisfied and you have a kick ass CV item and an extremely good position for next years salary discussion, or even bonus on completion, or possibly a significant bump up the ladder. Or all of the above.

If your target is ownership then you need to start your own company, develop it 100% on your own time, and only then offer it to the company with the leverage of quitting and selling it yourself. This will likely lead to severe legal issues, that you may or may not prevail through depending on how secure you can argue that you did not use company resources or client portfolios.

  • It is not a new product. It is being used internally now. – paparazzo Jan 15 '18 at 14:23
  • "I now though see the market potential of this product and feel like it could make money on its own." You have to have more than a feeling... You have to investigate this, so you can answer questions like "can you estimate the profitability" with some sort of response that isn't "uhh..." – Stian Yttervik Jan 16 '18 at 9:09

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