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Does My New Employer Now Own My Software?

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This post is adapted (with editing) from a Quora question that I answered. Q. I developed a software application on my own, then adapted it for my new employer, where it is used enterprise-wide. What are my ownership rights in this situation?

A. It would help to know whether you signed any type of proprietary information and inventions agreement with your employer. If you did, its terms (obviously) will be of great importance. You did not mention any such agreement, so I will assume, for the purposes of the discussion below, that there is no such agreement.

The most definitive thing I can say is that you own the copyright in the original application.

I expect that your employer owns the copyright in the improvements because, as the product of an employee working within the scope of his employment, they were a work made for hire. Please see “Work Made for Hire – a Term Made for Confusion“.

I expect that your employer has some sort of fairly broad implied license with respect to using and modifying the original application’s source code, but it is impossible to know, for certain, the terms or limits of that license. Please see “If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will“.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
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