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I work for an IT company whose policy states that any work/innovations that I do while working inside of the company premises belong to the company and I don't have any claims on them.

However, i was told by my friend, that work (writing code etc) that I do over the weekend on my personal computer at home also can be claimed as their IP, since my work at home is currently being influenced by the work I do at office.

So my question is how does Intellectual property (IP) rights generally work? How can I tell if the work I am doing is likely to be claimed by my employer? And is there anything I can do to protect myself without the expense of consulting a lawyer?

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    Read your contract... – XåpplI'-I0llwlg'I - May 13 '13 at 11:44
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    Legal questions are for lawyers; don't trust anything any stranger says on the Internet. What's more, some of those who attempt to answer your question may be risking legal liability as well. Again, contact a real lawyer. – Deer Hunter May 13 '13 at 12:01
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    This question is generic enough we could answer it with out a legal opinion. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 13 '13 at 19:58
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    @Chad i don't really see how. This is still asking who owns the rights to work done. We can give general answers, yes. but such answers would be almost useless, as they couldn't be relied on. Only actual legal counsel would be able to answer this, or alternatively, re-reading one's contract and/or asking this of someone in HR. Edit: also, with your re-write it turns into a handful of different issues, a bit much for a single question it seems. – acolyte May 13 '13 at 20:45
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    @Chad I don't even see anything about which jurisdiction the OP is in, so how could this be definitely answered as it stands at present? Even not considering the fact that "intellectual property" lumps together as diverse topics as copyright, patents and corporate/trade secrets, laws vary from country to country and sometimes even within a single country, and they definitely change over time. – a CVn May 14 '13 at 8:55
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While this may vary some by jurisdiction, in general, any work which you do while working for someone else is considered a Work for Hire. Unless your contract states otherwise you generally do not have any claim toward that work. Most contracts in technology include a claim on any work done while employed that can be related to the business of the person holding your contract. Even without this provision in your contract unless you can prove that the work was done entirely off the clock, and without using any resources of the company you are contracted to, the company could still try and claim your work, especially if it is based off of knowledge that you obtained while working for them.

For instance say I work for an Ecommerce company developing their payment services. And then while still working for them I take that knowledge and develop a Point of Sale system. Unless I can prove that I separated the time spent, did not use any of their resources, and that the projects were managed independently, the company has a decent chance of having that work declare a work for hire product of theirs. If there is the provision then it increases their chances of winning. So if your work is directly related to the companies work, then I would not risk losing my work by doing the development while on contract to them.

What you could do is approach them about the Idea you have for a project. Ask them if they would be interested, and if not then ask them if they would be willing to sign off on allowing you to pursue the project during your off hours. If they say yes get a lawyer to draw up the release and get them to sign off on it. Until they sign off agreeing to allow you to do the work for yourself, assume that they will change their mind. If they say no to both, you may have a non compete in your contract that will prohibit you from doing work that could compete with their work. This will generally cover projects that relate to their business such as the one you describe.

If you have concerns about legal matters it is best to consult a lawyer. From how you described your situation a trip to a lawyer sounds warranted so that you can understand the specifics of how your local laws are applied. Even in the US different courts apply these laws differently. In India, it is my understanding that this is even more true. So having someone who understands the local courts is valuable in these situations.

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If you are basing it off of something you would not have learned unless it was on that job it would not likely be yours. For a concept to be yours, it must be one you could have thought of without having had any connection to that company or use of its assets.

If it was something that occurred to you while on the premises but not specifically inspired by something only available to you at THAT job (and you have not contributed it to that job/left any record of your thoughts about it on the job) then in my opinion, it's as if you created it without them. I'm not a lawyer, but here's my logic.

Example: I am a cookie baker hired to work at a baking company coming up with secret recipes for chocolate chip cookies. One day, I thought that adding guacamole would really enchance the flavour. If I don't tell anyone at the company about it, there's no guacamole at the job site that is being considered as an ingredient, and I go home and experiment with guacamole to discover it's the best recipe idea ever, it would be my idea.

Chocolate chip cookies are not the sole domain of that company, there was nothing at the company which inspired my idea, and the idea could have as easily come to me at home in my own kitchen while baking my own cookies. Companies do not own thoughts that occur while on the premises, if those ideas are not inspired by something on the premises.

Now if it was someone else's idea to add guacamole to those cookies, and all you did was figure out an amount to add that tasted better, then it is based on information already owned by the company, you would be out in the cold.

My opinion.

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