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Intellectual Property, Who Owns Your Thoughts?

Updated: May 2, 2021

Who owns your thoughts?

What is the value of invention?

How do you determine the inception of an idea?

Was it born out of experience within a corporate structure, or totally independent of your "day job" and generated as a result of outside influence and investigation?

These are some of the thorny questions that inventors and companies deal with when trying to determine the ownership of ideas, designs, and concepts. As an inventor and engineer I am passionate about intellectual property rights. It is nearly impossible to separate the inventor from the invention. Inspiration for new ideas may come in the early morning, late at night, or driving, or in the shower for some reason. The human mind is a complex and wonderful thing that makes connections between disparate concepts to bring forth advancements for mankind, or sometimes to entertain the masses like the fidget spinner.

Ownership of these ideas is the thorn in the side of every creative engineer that I know. I am curious about how this works for other professions, like artists and architects? Are they required to sign away rights to things they do or think on the weekends or evenings? Corporate agreements that lock up Intellectual Property (IP) generated by employees amounts to intellectual slavery for engineers, scientists, and inventors. The concept of signing away all and any invention ideas generated at any time of day or night is so repulsive that we need to fight against it at every opportunity.

Often these agreements are a condition of employment and the individual can be fired for not signing on the line. I know many engineers that have been fighting against such agreements with variable levels of success.

I propose that we need to add a chapter to the MBA curriculum to help our business leaders understand the economic power of inventive creation and the small business entrepreneur. When a large company can't move fast enough to supply a market need, it often will be usurped by a small start-up with more agility and creative energy. If successful the new company will grow and become slow as well, and the cycle repeats. Since the new companies are typically formed by people that have jobs already, locking up every idea they have kills the creative energy needed to start new enterprises, thereby stifling the economic engine of this business cycle. Maybe the MBA CEO feels a short term gain, but long term reduction in economic activity hurts all businesses and should be avoided. It is far better to promote and support innovative ideas, start-ups, and spin-offs, feeding the economic engine with small businesses. To do this engineers, inventors, and scientist should always retain ownership of ideas and inventions developed outside the corporate structure. However, it is incumbent upon the technical experts to be clear, fair, and honest in assigning ownership to the corporation if that was the source of the idea and support for development.

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