Intellectual Property – Who is the Owner?

In creative or innovative industries, often a main source of dispute is over who owns the Intellectual Property (IP) of designs, processes, software and systems.

The best way to avoid disputes is to have a clear and binding agreement which sets out who owns what, so this is understood by all parties. This is a complex area and it is vital to get legal advice on preparing such documentation to avoid future disputes.

When employees of a company are concerned, a simple way of protecting IP rights is to have ‘who owns what’ included in terms of employment. Firms which create IP assets usually also ensure that their employees sign a non-disclosure agreement.

In terms of who owns IP rights, it can become complicated where employees create IP assets.

If an employee creates an IP asset as part of their job, unless there is a specific agreement the IP usually belongs to their employer.

If an employee creates something at work, but not as part of their job – for example if it is not work related, or they have used their employer’s equipment – strictly the employee has the IP rights, but their employer might be able to make a claim for breaching their employment contract, or for using the any of the employer’s IP in their own creation.

If a business creates assets for a client as part of a contract, then the wording of the contract is critical. For example, if you create a computer programme for a client and want to reuse this for other projects, you must ensure that the contract specifies that any source remains with you, otherwise it could be held that the client owns the right to the program.

If there is no agreement over the copyright, usually any IP rights you create remain as your property. However, if the organisation commissioning the work provided any element, they will remain their property.

The UK Intellectual Property Office offers useful information about designs, patents, trade marks and copyright.

Nelsons has a team of expert intellectual property solicitors specialising in advice and disputes in this area. For more information, contact us or call 0800 024 1976.