So, lets say I work on a project A and a company sends me on a business trip related to the project A to meet with a people working on project A. Along the way, during discussions with people related to the project A (or maybe must be unrelated - meet someone new) idea for some kind of project B is born which could be profitable.

  • idea is unrelated to the business project one was sent on business trip for

It's just hypothetical question, and I could not give more details.

Is the company entitled to the idea by virtue of the fact that it provided me with the opportunity to go to a place where I was able to network/brainstorm with people interested in my idea?

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    Welcome to The Workplace, nekome. I've made some edits to your original question to keep it concise and easier to read. Hopefully I haven't taken away from the original intent. Also, this question is crossing into the legal realm, and may not be a great fit for this site.
    – kolossus
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 18:24
  • Oh not at all. Thanks. I'm not in this kind of situation, but it just crossed my mind.
    – edin-m
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 18:34
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    This is a great question, but it's tough to make these legal questions fit our site due to the fact that the answers may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This makes it harder to help point future visitors in the right direction. You could probably find the answers on a law site, like FindLaw, or by checking employment laws in your local jurisdiction. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:49

5 Answers 5


Most companies have you sign away your intellectual property rights for ideas you have while working for a company that are related to the business. Any ideas for products or improvements to products are usually claimed by your employer. It really does not matter if it happened as you went to bed at home, or if you had it on the Golf course, or had it during your regular work hours. Mostly because it is impossible to prove when you had the idea.

If you had an idea for a product that is not in your company's line of business they could still lay claim to the idea, for this reason before I started working on a side project I would get something in writing from your employer that they are not going to lay claim to your Idea and are aware that you are developing it on your own time away from work without the use of company resources. This would protect you from any claims your company might decide to make once you get to a finished product with out their help.

It is important that you avoid the use of company resources. This includes your work laptop, pens and paper you "accidentally" brought home from work, and any scrap material that your company was going to discard that would work on your project. If you get this type of material support from your company then they may have a claim against it, even if they originally declined to claim the idea. Your company probably has deeper pockets and a legal battle of this type is not something most part time inventors can afford.

Most importantly consult a lawyer, and get them to draw up the paperwork protecting you. You should be able to get that done for $500-1000 and that expense can save you from tens of thousands in legal fees down the road. That advice might save you from starting a project you are just going to lose as well.

  • I usually line through anything like that in any contract I sign to work for anyone. I've never had anyone say no. Most especially in the tech industry since, for example, if you work on an open source project it can only look good for them. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 19:12
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    What kind of intellectual property rights exist for mere ideas? Copyright doesn't apply, patents are for specific implementations of an idea, trademarks don't apply... since when are mere ideas intellectual property? Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:52

Ideas aren't property.

Your company may, depending on your contract and relevant laws, claim copyright on copyrightable artifacts that you create.

Your company may, depending on your contract and relevant laws, claim ownership on patents developed by you.

However, having an idea is not an ownable object nor any kind of 'intellectual property'. If you have an "idea for some kind of project", then it's up to you what you want to do with it. A business plan can be copyrightable from the moment it's fixed on any durable medium - but not while it's an idea.

If you figure out 'hey, doing X would be a really good idea' - there may be all kinds of factors that allow or prohibit you to do X; but the location/time where you figured that out doesn't matter. If X is 'start a company that does Y', then it's not protected by copyright nor patent laws, and they can't claim ownership of that unless you've signed a contract that gives them such rights.

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    So far, this undervalued answer is the only one that got it right. Ideas cannot be owned and are not subject to intellectual property rights. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:06
  • Accurate, but in many situations, you're still stuck, because unless you quit the company before doing any work on the idea which creates an artifact, the company may still claim it.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 21:31

It's also worth noting company's ability to lay claim to your intellectual property during their hours varies state to state.

Some state favor heavily on the employer requiring them to explicitly state they will not lay claim. Other states heavily lean to the employee's advantage to the point you're safe so long as it's not too similar or competing with your employer.

Learn if your state has any additional rules to IP it'll save you grief. It's also worth noting as stated above some employers DO make you sign off IP rights while employed.

In some states despite these being in your contract, they can be deemed unlawful or unreasonable and no longer legally binding. (typically lawyers are already involved by this point so not ideal)

All in all, your best bet is to check your contract for IP rules that blanket, if they are in there make sure your employer explicitly relinquishes it's right to lay claim. If not be cautious... make sure your work in no way is related to the idea. No use of work time or materials, ect. It's up to the employer to prove they have legitimate claim on your idea, still. Getting them to sign something would be best... Avoiding litigation is always a good idea.

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    If you put yourself in a position where a claim by an employer could be thrown out by summary judgment i.e. the judge makes an immediate determination that the claim has no merit - that would be the best. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 19:25

Typically salaried employees are subject to having anything they create owned by the company. (in the US anyway)

That being said, policies vary. I work for a large technology company, and they have a specific policy for this scenario. I have to run my idea past a committee to see if it is something that relates to our business. If it is, then it will belong to them. Not having actually done this, I don't know all the details or what happens next.

If not however, I am free at that point to pursue the project on my own time and own resources.


Reread your employment contract or better yet, get your lawyer to reread your employment contract.

If your employment contract doesn't say anything about your employer owning your ideas, you are home free, depending on your jurisdiction.

Some employers will state in the employment contract that they own only ideas of yours that are related to their business.

Other employers will be extremely aggressive and write into your employment contract that they own your ideas. The whole kit and caboodle. Period.

And if your employer stakes a claim on your ideas, you are not getting away by claiming that you got your ideas while on vacation in the Bahamas either. Because whether on vacation or not, you're still their employee.

Now, we circle back to the beginning: reread your employment contract.

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    "If your employment contract doesn't say anything about your employer owning your ideas, you are home free." Where do you get that from? I think you could be greatly mistaken. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 20:43
  • Oh yeah? How do you expect to enforce the terms of a contract in a court of law if the terms are not in the contract or in any document referred to as per the contract? If I am mistaken, tell me in what way I am mistaken so that I can be on my guard. At any rate, I'd make damn sure that a lawyer would reread the terms of the contract regardless, as a CYA move - the lawyer might detect a "gotcha" that I didn't. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:27
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    @VietnhiPhuvan - If terms are not spelled out in a contract, the laws of that jurisdiction may dictate how conflicts are resolved. For instance, the law may state that, by default, all intellectual property created while employed belongs to the employer.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:47
  • jmort253: you just gave one more reason why it's a damn good idea to have a lawyer review the employment contract :) Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 3:01
  • Do I need references and sources to say "have your employer contract reviewed by a lawyer, because the contract may have 'gotchas' you may not be aware of and because you are not an expert on the applicable laws of your jurisdiction. And just about the last thing you want to give to your employer is anything like a enough of a case for extended litigation to be a viable option"? Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 2:53

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