During my internship a few months back, I developed this software for a certain energy company, which interestingly now they are finding quite profitable, and want to extend it to a national level, they have asked me as a favor to come and teach some of the company's developers the main features of the application so they can keep on with the development.

Now of course I don't plan on it, unless some mutual agreement is found during a meeting next week, but the issue is, when I signed up for the internship I don't remember signing any documents saying that anything I developed belonged to them, and if I did I have no documentation of it whatsoever. The software was developed on site, although I was asked to bring my own equipment, so the application was never really developed on any of their computers.

I had no work contract at all, so nothing stating my work belonged to them there either.

I did receive a payment, but that was more symbolical than anything, and since there was no contract there was never any resignation either.

So again, who owns the code?

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    This boils down to a legal question, and we are not lawyers (and this is not a binding forum for legal advice). Even suppositions will be based on the jurisdiction in which you performed the work. I find it extremely unlikely you had no contract of any sort (even if just, "you will work for 3 weeks..."). Who maintains the source-control repository? Note that I recommend you ask for some sort of consulting rate if you're going to be giving training. May 31, 2014 at 4:30
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    You do sign papers stating the time you will work there, the area you are assigned to and what not, but since it's not a software oriented company, there was no "all your software belongs to us" clause or anything like that, hence why I state I didn't have that kind of contract. And there is no one really maintaining the application as far as I've been told. May 31, 2014 at 4:36
  • You initially state there is no work contract but then you did sign papers. Could there have been references to work or intellectual property that would cover software?
    – JB King
    May 31, 2014 at 4:44
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    Did you read everything that you signed? Was any of it related to IP assignment? If not, and if you were not paid for your time nor provided with equipment then generally the code would be yours. That 'symbolic' payment you received may be problematic, however. If you were to formally dispute the ownership of the code, you can expect to be asked "what did you think you were being paid for?". And you'd better have a good answer. And one that isn't "my time" or "my code".
    – aroth
    May 31, 2014 at 4:49
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    The company can easily make the case that they own the code, especially since you did your work onsite, you took the nominal pay and you turned the code over to them as an implicit acknowledgement that the code belongs to them. It's up to you to make either the contrary argument that they don't own the code or the argument that you also own the code. May 31, 2014 at 10:29

2 Answers 2


If you really think that you potentially own the code, you'd really need to see a lawyer, not an internet forum.

It would be criminally stupid on the part of the company, however, if they managed to structure your internship in a way that allowed you to own the code you developed for them. A company large enough to have a national presence would almost assuredly structure your internship such that any code you produced would be considered a work for hire and thus owned by the company. You'd need a lawyer to determine whether the code you produced actually met the requirements of a work for hire (or if some other doctrine gives the company control) but from the outside, I'd certainly be willing to put down a sizable wager that the company wasn't stupid enough to let you develop software for them that they didn't own.

Given that you appear to have written software that the company finds rather valuable, I would expect that your best option moving forward would be to help the company make use of your software so that you have a great talking point for future employers and/or you have an all-but-guaranteed job with this company after graduation. It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that you'd be happy to set up a consulting agreement with them to cover the initial training, including prep time assuming that you'll be putting together some documentation and/or PowerPoint slides) and some amount of ongoing assistance even if that's just a few hours a month.

  • I'm affraid you are right, I'll have to talk to them and see if we can work something out, hopefully a win-win. Thanks. May 31, 2014 at 8:29
  • Sell your expertise in the software!! This could make you some good cash, maybe even a job and also a lot of future job opportunities. Speaking to a lawyer before would be good though, so you can estimate how much leverage you have in the negotiations, but always stay friendly and don't become hostile.
    – René Roth
    Jun 1, 2014 at 16:27

Don't get into a fight with them about ownership of this code. Seriously.

It's probably the company's. If you do get into a fight it will take years and you'll make enemies. At any rate it's unlikely that the code is worth anything to you, or anybody, in isolation from this company.

Do you need a little money? (You're a student so the answer is likely "yes".) Politely ask for a modest consulting fee for the time you will spend working with their other developers. That's a reasonable request. But cooperate even if they can't offer you a fee (sometimes companies have internal paperwork requirements that make it hard to hire short-term consultants).

What's this code, and this internship experience, worth to you? Could it turn into a permanent job offer from this company when you're done with university? Do you want that? Then, when you meet with them about helping show their other staff how your program works be entirely cooperative. Tell them you enjoyed interning with them and you'd like a job on graduation. If

If you don't want to work with them on graduation, then cooperate fully with their request. Put on your resume something like this "in my internship I developed software to do whatever. It improved their whatever profitability by whatever, They called me back to consult with other developers after my internship's end."

That is the way you get lasting career value from an internship project. Make it your mission to make the work you did have lasting value to this company. Be generous. What goes around comes around. You're much better off five years from now if you're that legendary intern.

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