Two years ago, I was hired by a university to develop a software system. They had worked on it for five years, but only in a very low priority mode, so all they had was a database layout that was mostly in good shape. My supervisor hired me to take this project as my sole priority, and he has protected me from being involved in anything else. Within a year, I had deployed a system that the main users were very happy with. Over the last year, we have enhanced the software and expanded it to where every person in our department (students, faculty and staff) can use it. Over that whole time, I was the only one actually doing any of the code in the software, but there were many times when I got stuck and went to my supervisor and he gave me the guidance I needed to get past the problem. We often discussed design decisions, deployment strategy, user interface, etc.

Now, we want to commercialize the software. The University has a process for that, and he started the ball rolling by filling out the appropriate form. But, he filled it out as if I was the only author of the software. This means that I would get all of the author royalties, and he would get none. I am not comfortable with this. The form asks for authors and percentage contribution, so I went to him and talked to him and pushed for him to name a percentage. With a little pushing, he threw out 1%. I said I would start the form with 10%, but that if he felt it should be different, that I would be ok with it.

Should I do different on this? Should I increase his percentage contribution? Any words of wisdom on how to deal with this? What is a reasonable percentage contribution for a supervisor who has been really awesome about not only protecting me from other priorities, but also has given excellent guidance on design, coding, user interaction, etc.?

In Summary: My supervisor did not want to assume ownership of a product I developed with his help, but seemed willing to accept 10%. Am I being greedy by saying only 10%?

  • Why didn't you keep pushing when you brought this up? His reasons for not electing to be part of this are largely his own and not something we can guess at, nor can we estimate whether this arrangement makes sense, what percentage ownership he deserves or how you should feel about it all. You may want to reword this or focus on an actionable problem. – Lilienthal Apr 3 '17 at 13:57
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    Right now I think your question is too unclear to be really answerable. Reading between the lines, can I summarise your question as: "My mentor doesn't want a share of the ownership of a product I developed with his help, should I push him to reconsider?" That's still on the edge of being off-topic but I think this can get useful answers if the scope is clear. – Lilienthal Apr 3 '17 at 13:57
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    He was OK with 0%. Clearly he will be happy with 10%. – paparazzo Apr 3 '17 at 14:02
  • @Lilienthal - I think a better summary would be: "My supervisor did not want to assume ownership of a product I developed with his help, but seemed willing to accept 10%. Am I being greedy by saying only 10%?" – AgapwIesu Apr 3 '17 at 14:16
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    @Lilienthal - Thank you. I have edited as you suggested. And I think Mutt and Ryan's answers get me the guidance I was hoping for. – AgapwIesu Apr 4 '17 at 22:05

I think the best answer is a inter-personal one. The refusal is a personal choice just as your desire for inclusion. I would go back and talk in more detail how important it is for you to have him included in the contribution percentage and why. This will not only show his importance to you personally, but also give him the opportunity to modify his stance to honor your desire as well.

  • To 100% deny is preventing you from honoring him as you desire to do.
  • To go with a larger percentage is preventing him from honoring you as he desires to do.

You need to discuss and come to a mid-way point and that is only done going to happen from being real and honest and talking it through.

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    I come from a relational culture. Your answer starts and carries through by pointing to an inter-personal answer. I really appreciate that. – AgapwIesu Apr 4 '17 at 22:07

I totally agree with Mutt's answer here, but here is a viewpoint I don't yet see here.

You spent 1-2 years on this project. In an average full time work year, that is about 2090 hours of work. Now I don't know if you actually worked full time, or how many hours you actually put into this project over those 2 years, but if you worked full time, that is still almost 4180 hours of work. Pick a reasonable number of how many hours you put into this, and compare to how many hours you think he put into helping you, and how many hours would you say him preventing other projects from appearing on your desk is worth.

With that, we are back to Mutt's answer, that he does not feel like his contributions are significant, at least compared to yours. He may even feel that the contributions he did he has already been compensated for, namely by whoever hired him to do his job that seemed to include helping you out. If you did put in about 4200 hours of work, then 10% is still 420 hours. Can you honestly say he put in over 400 hours in the last 2 years directly related to this project, and can you say that the time he did put in was not directly a part of his job description to help you.

It sounds like he is an honest person, and he can not do those things. In that respect, if you want him to agree to this, you need to convince him of the value of his contributions. At the same time, you need to determine how much you value your own contributions. From there, It is Mutt's answer again, Simply finding the balance between those contributions that you both can accept.

  • This was very helpful. It helped me realize that no, he has not done 10% of the project, and he certainly has been compensated for his work, with a salary that is quite better than my own (but then again, I have been compensated for my work as well). Which in turn helps me realize that offering 10% is not greedy. If I err on the side of generosity, I do not mind, and I am sure he will welcome it... if anything ever comes of it. – AgapwIesu Apr 4 '17 at 22:02
  • @AgapwIesu that was the goal, a look into what might be his reasoning why he is not accepting credit. It doesn't matter how much he actually contributed to the project, but more so how much both you and him value the contributions he did do. In that respect, ideas are the key here, as their value is far beyond hours put into them. The right idea is worth millions, and in this case, if he helped you get on the right path, he may have trimmed a few months of work off the project. If you can justify that, you have a solid foundation. – Ryan Apr 5 '17 at 18:50

You might think of the term "author royalties" and automatically assume that anyone would welcome the opportunity to have an extra check in the mailbox.

What if your supervisor, in his private life, is dealing with some mess, like an alimony payment and unwanted court visits? That's a reality for LOTS of people, male and female. And so, your "contribution" to his life could have the effect of creating more noise in his life by way of more court visits, more attorneys, and so forth -- over a few lousy dollars. So if his situation is near-peaceful, and your suggestion threatens to muck that all up again, could you see how it'd be easy to turn some royalties down?

I've only given a hypothetical because I don't know the man's private life. As it stands you don't know his private life, either. Don't go assuming that your pot of gold is certain to make the next person happy. If you're feeling guilty, ask him if there's a charity you should donate his share to. Overstepping may have consequences.

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