Protecting intellectual property rights is a critical component to the success of a technology company. In order for a tech company to determine how to protect its intellectual property, the company should understand how the key intellectual property rights work. In this Part 1 of a three-part series, we discuss how patent, copyright, and trade secret ownership works in the United States if there is no agreement in place to allocate these rights.
Patents are a right to exclude others from using a technology for a limited period of time. In exchange for these rights, the patent holder must disclose the invention in the patent. Without an agreement in place to state the ownership of an invention that is patented, the following applies:
- Sole Ownership. In general, the inventor owns the right to patent the invention, regardless of the type of technology. This is the case even when the inventor is an employee who created an invention within the scope of employment
- Joint Ownership. Occurs when there is more than one inventor (employee from Company A and employee from Company B, for example) or rights have been assigned to more than one person or entity. Even a small percentage ownership or minor contribution results in joint ownership right in the patent. Any owner may exploit a patent either by licensing to a third party or practicing the patent without permission of or accounting of profits to any other owner
- Enforcement. All owners must participate in an enforcement claim. Therefore, if a company jointly owns a patent and wants to file an infringement claim against a third party, all other owners must also agree to file the claim