Can a company claim ownership of a personal programming project that you only work on at home outside of work hours? What if it’s an idea that you quit your job to pursue?

First things first – take a look at the great answers provided by Gil, Konstantinos, and Aaron (check out a recent post of mine on the same subject). However, one thing that I feel was not stressed enough is the need to talk to a lawyer. You are in a dicey situation and speaking with an attorney will provide you with much more of a definite and tailored strategy than the answers you find online. I’ll list some reasons why it is imperative for you to seek advice from an attorney:

  • An attorney will be able to look up the labor law specific to your state regarding this issue. As Konstantinos alluded to, California is very friendly for programmers trying to create products on the side. Other states with similar (but different) statutes include Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Utah. However, just because you are located in these states does not per se provide you with rights to your creation so advice from an attorney is important in any jurisdiction.
  • An attorney will instruct you on how to handle relations with your employer. This includes having an attorney to turn to if your employer retaliates against you. Also, your attorney may recommend an injunction to stop your employer from moving forward with infringing your product.
  • An attorney will review applicable agreements that you may have signed during your employment. Trade secret, anti-competition, and non-disclosure provisions can be profoundly confusing, and sometimes hard to find when they are hidden in a voluminous employment contract. An attorney will sift through these convoluted agreements to determine if you have rights.
  • An attorney will help you cull evidence to show you worked on your project exclusively at home, which will help if your case reaches a courtroom. An attorney will also help you negotiate with your employer to help avoid such courtroom!

In the past, we at LawTrades have helped skilled programmers maneuver through sticky situations like the one you currently find yourself in. We value the need for bootstrapping creators to obtain IP protection, which is reflected by our affordable pricing compared to traditional law firms. Feel free to check out the site and schedule a complimentary 20 minute consultation with one of our experienced employment attorneys to better understand your options.

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