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NewsOK Q&A: IP assignment agreement is key to invention ownership

Phillips Murrah Patent Attorney Cody J. Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

In this article, Oklahoma City Patent Attorney Cody J. Cooper discusses the rights inventors have when inventing under the employment of someone else.

Q: When an employee invents something during the course of his or her employment, who owns the invention?

A: The employee owns the invention. Inventors’ exclusive right to their inventions is specifically written into the United States Constitution and, as such, courts have generally interpreted ownership of inventions to favor individuals, except in very narrow circumstances.

Q: How can an employer assure ownership when an employee conceives of an invention on the job?

A: The employer must have employees sign an intellectual property (IP) assignment agreement. Because the general rule is that an inventor owns the rights, courts strictly interpret IP assignment agreements. Recent case law has instructed employers that how you draft the assignment agreement is equally as important as having an agreement in the first place. In fact, the Federal Circuit recently determined, in Advance Video Technologies LLC v. HTC Corporation Inc., that an IP assignment must include language saying the employee “assigns” — present tense, not future tense — their employer all IP rights. The small difference in language had a tremendous impact on the employer’s ability to sue another company for patent infringement.

Q: Should IP assignment agreements only be used by businesses in manufacturing, research or product development?

A: No. I would suggest any company consider having its employees sign an IP assignment agreement if the company expects employees to create work or inventions to which the company would expect to have rights and expects to protect it through application for apply for a trademark, patent, copyright or other appropriate protection to keep others from using it without permission.

Q: What are some other employer considerations regarding IP assignment agreements?

A: Make sure that your employees sign IP assignments before they begin working for you, and make sure that you consult an attorney on the drafting of the IP assignment to ensure that it complies with current law and effectively assigns the IP rights you are seeking to protect.

Q: What if an employer has employees who’ve already created inventions that the employer presumed the company owned but doesn’t have an IP assignment in place? Can the company enter into an IP assignment agreement retroactively?

A: If this is the case, the invention is owned by the employee, and the employer likely has no rights to the invention. Nevertheless, the employer and employee can still enter into a IP assignment agreement, but there must be some sort of consideration (exchange in value) passed between the parties. The law makes clear that it is not enough for the employer to say that the consideration the employee is receiving is that they get to keep their job — there must be something more passing to the employee for their assignment of their invention (i.e. money, stock, etc.).

 

Published: 1/30/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5621521/qa-with-cody-j-cooper-ip-assignment-agreement-is-key-to-invention-ownership

 

Gavel to Gavel: IP agreement is key to invention ownership

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on Jan. 24, 2019.


Cody Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

Let’s say an employee invents something during the course of his or her employment. Who owns the invention? There is a common misconception that the employer always owns the rights to the invention. However, that is incorrect. The correct answer is that typically the employee owns it.

Inventors’ exclusive right to their inventions is specifically written into the U.S. Constitution and, as such, courts have generally interpreted ownership of inventions to favor the inventors. While there are some narrow exceptions, the general rule is that an inventor owns the rights regardless of how that invention arose.

If an employer wants ownership of inventions created by employees, the employer must have employees sign an intellectual property assignment agreement. In such a scenario, employers should be aware that courts strictly interpret IP assignment agreements. Recent case law has instructed employers that how you draft the assignment agreement is equally as important as having an agreement in the first place.

For example, the Federal Circuit recently determined, in Advance Video Technologies v. HTC Corporation Inc., that the language “will assign” in an IP assignment is insufficient to actually assign an employee’s interest in an invention to the employer. The court opined that “will assign” is simply a promise to do something in the future.

Instead, the court inferred that an IP assignment must include language saying the employee “assigns” – present tense – their IP rights. The small difference in language had a tremendous impact on the employer’s standing to sue another company for patent infringement.

If employees have already created inventions that the employer presumed the company owns but doesn’t have an IP assignment in place, the invention is likely owned by the employee and the employer probably has no rights to the invention. Nevertheless, the employer and employee can still enter into an IP assignment agreement.

However, in this scenario there must be an exchange-of-value, i.e. consideration. The law makes clear that it is not enough for the employer to say that the consideration passed to the employee is the employee’s continued employment. There must be something more passing to the employees for their assignment of their invention, like money, stock or some other exchange of value, for it to be effective.

Accidents, disagreements and liabilities – a festive sampling of holiday legal hazards

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2018.


Phillips Murrah litigation attorney Hillary Clifton discusses holiday legal hazards.

Hilary Hudson Clifton is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters. Click photo to visit her attorney profile.

As we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, it’s a good time to contemplate the joys this time of year brings. For many, that list includes extra time with loved ones, hearty food and cozy pajamas.

Hopefully, holiday-specific “legal woes” are less likely to come to mind. Nevertheless, holidays often have their own unique histories of legal issues that few would equate with the brotherly love and fa-la-la-falderal we expect during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

By this time, those who opened their homes and businesses on Halloween hopefully avoided any incidents associated with the spookier part of the season, like haunted house trip-and-falls or home-made cotton-ball sheep costume fires (see Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc.).

Premises liability, however, remains a major concern for retailers preparing for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. Though most Black Friday retail giants are now well-acquainted with the safety risks associated with enormous sales and even bigger crowds, smaller retailers should be sure to beef up their safety protocol and brush up on premises liability concepts to keep the shopping season incident-free.

In addition to civil liability, failure to adequately cope with Black Friday madness can result in a business being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” can be found online.

Less tangible injuries to intellectual property rights will often arise in connection with holiday-themed entertainment. One case that has been in the news recently involves the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which puts a darker twist on Sabrina the Teenage Witch), and The Satanic Temple’s claim that a statue featured in the show of the goat-headed Baphomet infringes on the Temple’s copyright of its own monument.

There’s also a fair chance that your favorite Christmas carol continues to generate income as someone’s intellectual property – and that someone would like to keep it that way (think the listless bachelor played by Hugh Grant in About A Boy). Of course, many holiday favorites, like Deck the Halls and Silent Night, have become part of the public domain and are perfect for spreading Christmas cheer. Others, like Frosty the Snowman, are still protected by copyright and require a license for public performances.

Finally, if you have any particularly overzealous family members, you might turn the threat of intellectual property litigation to your advantage, by cautioning that their makeshift mistletoe hats infringe on the “mistletoe supporting headband” patented in 1983 or the “Kiss Me” holiday cap patented in 1999.

Though I wouldn’t recommend Grinch-ing up your holiday parties by casually chatting about all the ways one might get sued before the new year, we should all keep in mind that no season is immune from the unfortunate reality of accidents, disagreements and liabilities – no matter how sincere our sentiments of peace on earth and good will toward man.

What’s in a name? Tremendous value

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 4, 2018.


Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

The holiday season is coming to an end, and most people have opened their Xboxes and Legos, eaten some HoneyBaked Ham, braved the cold in their North Face jackets and thrown away holiday trash in Hefty trash bags.

With a glut of advertising during the holidays, the power of brand recognition is obvious, and successful companies recognize the influence their names have on consumer behavior. This makes protecting a company’s trademark, typically the company’s name, critical, especially as their market exposure and customer base grows.

The trademark associated with the goods and services of a company is commonly one of its most valuable assets. For example, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Co., the fifth most valuable brand in 2017, has a market capitalization (total value of all outstanding stock) of $195 billion and the Coca-Cola name, alone, is worth $56.4 billion, which accounts for almost 30 percent of its value. To round out the top five corporate monikers, Apple takes the top spot with its name being worth $170 billion, followed by Google ($101.8B), Microsoft ($87B) and Facebook ($73.5B).

The same legal considerations of brand value for large companies applies equally for many smaller, growing companies and organizations. Because consumers instantly associate an entity’s name with its good or services, protecting the name with a trademark has tremendous value.

Generally, a business has common law rights to exclude others from using a trademark that is confusingly similar to its own trademark. The scope of this right greatly expands or contracts based on whether a trademark has been registered, and the level at which the mark is registered. There are two avenues to take when looking to protect a company’s trademark: file for a state trademark or a federal mark.

State trademarks are typically cheaper, faster and easier to obtain, yet they also afford far less protection. Conversely, federal marks have a more rigorous application process, cost more, and take longer, but they afford the greatest amount of protection since they provide protection throughout the United States and supersede state trademarks.

Smart company leaders spend significant time and money building the value of their company and brand, and they realize the importance of protecting the company’s most valuable consumer-facing asset by securing a trademark.

Cody J. Cooper is a patent attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.