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Came across this post on Imgur:

http://imgur.com/gallery/9bvFs

The gist here:

An employee created software in 2015 that automated their job. They were let go roughly 1 year later. According to the post, the software was created out of work hours using personal resources and no clause in their contract states that the source code is the companies. Also was patented, with a kill switch.

From the post

No agreement or contract was signed giving legal permission for the company to use my application and source code. They do not have the source code, the only existing copies are on my personal computers at my home and were never introduced to the company environment. They have no legal ownership claim to the application or code or their use.

1) The patent was filed, reviewed, and granted prior to the application being implemented at the company

2) At no time did i spent ANY time creating the source code or application at work or on a company owned device, or with company data.

3) there is no clause in my hiring contract stating company gets ownership of anything I create while employed by them. This contract has been reviewed and confirmed independently by two different attorneys

4)The source code was designed, tested, AND PATENTED with the kill switch programmed in.

5) The estimated $250 million loss is over the course of 6-10 months not all at once. and It's based on loss of production and finding a way to fill the void left by the applications destruction. Likely having to hire a vendor to complete the work as that is what the automation eliminated.

6) In the granting of the bonus there was no paperwork to be signed and there was no agreement verbal or written that the company had cart blanch to use the application.

7) To my knowledge the company does not know that the application has been patented in my name.

Anyone have experience with a situation like this? How will it likely play out?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Masked Man, Chris E, Philip Kendall, Chris G, IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 9 '16 at 19:00

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 10
    The poor programmer is in for a rude awakening to how the legal system works. – RJFalconer Dec 9 '16 at 16:22
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    I'm not sure this question has a good answer (besides "bad stuff") – user30031 Dec 9 '16 at 16:48
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    @USER_8675309 nah, let's just see how the community receives it. – user30031 Dec 9 '16 at 17:22
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    Interesting but not a specific question as it reads right now. – paparazzo Dec 9 '16 at 17:47
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because its about guessing the future not navigating the workplace – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 9 '16 at 19:00
14

This is an urban myth that resurfaces every few years. Salient points demonstrating its mythosity (by OP I mean the Imgur poster, not USER_8675309):

  1. OP claims software was patented, but does not mention copyright. Software is always protected by copyright but software patents are hard to get.

  2. OP claims he presented program to CIO and implemented it for company. No CIO would allow his company to depend on software without a copyright transfer or at least an ironclad license.

  3. OP claims he received a "spot bonus". If the company had money for a bonus then it had money for a license. Nobody GIVES ten grand to a computer programmer.

  4. OP claims kill switch purges "any trace" of application and all of its work product. This is the wording of someone who has never created and deployed a software application.

  5. OP claims "The patent was filed, reviewed, and granted prior to the application being implemented at the company." Not between mid-2015 and now, it wasn't. Software patents take at least four years to issue.

  6. OP claims "there is no clause in my hiring contract stating company gets ownership of anything I create while employed by them." This just does not happen at a company as big as OP says it is.

  7. OP claims "The source code was designed, tested, AND PATENTED with the kill switch programmed in." More arrant nonsense that no real automation developer would ever utter.

  8. OP claims "For those sending me PM's asking for the industry or company name you're wasting your time. I will not reveal that information." As we say, evidence or it didn't happen.

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    Good answer but don't agree with 6. It this person was not a programmer and really did automate their job there very well might not be any ownership clause. – paparazzo Dec 9 '16 at 18:04
  • Also the OP does not even mention something as basic as backups... will that kill switch erase the backup data, too? – SJuan76 Dec 9 '16 at 18:41
  • Actually I was given 3k in $100 bonuses from the owner of a small medical device manufacturer over the course of 2 months. I could see that guy doing something like this, though no matter how bad it damaged the product the ultimate costs are far under 2 million let alone 200 million. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 9 '16 at 19:10
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    @Paparazzi: "Intellectual property" ownership clause is standard boilerplate for exempt employees. Omitting it would be a notable exception. – A. I. Breveleri Dec 9 '16 at 19:57
  • @A.I.Breveleri I guess I am the notable exception then. – paparazzo Dec 9 '16 at 20:00
9

This is a nightmare scenario, and the only people who will win are the lawyers.

This guy may have every right to claim that the application is his, and that it enhanced his value as an employee. The "kill switch" may be an appropriate license management tool if it only stopped the tool from running.

However, the post states that the application will then take action to destroy work product. That work product is ABSOLUTELY the property of the company. No matter how the employee created it, he was paid to create it, and the work product belongs to the company. The bonus was clearly tied to the product, and by accepting it, it was an easily-inferred assignment of license. By destroying it, even passively, that would be not only civilly actionable, but likely criminal as well. (Depends on jurisdiction.)

One of the things I have been VERY careful about over the years is making sure I have a documented "release" from my employers to develop my own software on my own time. I have those releases backed up on half a dozen services just to be absolutely sure I never find myself in the Sh*t-Storm this guy is about to experience.

However, the real blame here lies with the CIO. If he accepted and integrated the technology without written and counter-signed license terms, support terms, and source code (at least in escrow) for a business critical system, then the CIO is an absolute moron, and should be thrown bodily from the building.

  • We don't know the nature of the bonus. Still good answer. – paparazzo Dec 9 '16 at 17:55
  • Advocating murder in an answer is against SE Policy I believe. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 9 '16 at 20:10
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    I don't think advocating throwing someone out of a building is quite the same as advocating murder, even if it is somewhat unprofessional. – aaron Dec 9 '16 at 20:22

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