Published on November 7th, 2018 by Alan L. Sklover
“Create with the heart; build with the mind.”
– Criss Jami
ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES: Adelisa, 38, had a rock-solid resume as an Analytics Design Specialist, having been employed by a list of impressive hedge fund employers. She was an expert in assisting Quantitative Analysts design software and algorithms to better predict investment performance. Her experience, skills and industry relations were such that she received recruitment inquiries almost weekly. For a few years, she was on her own as an independent contractor, but was now a mother of two young girls, and had become far more interested in the comfort afforded by a weekly paycheck.
One inquiry she received from a large hedge fund intrigued her so much that she entered into serious talks with them for a senior executive position that included very substantial compensation, great working flexibility and significant job security.
I had worked with Adelisa several times before, each time she climbed the “career ladder.” When she contacted me this time, she had already received a “standard” employment contract from her potential employer. I noticed right away that it was heavily laden with many detailed provisions intended to protect the employer from employees “stealing” creations, inventions, proprietary information and trade secrets. The entire employment agreement consisted of 8 pages, 4 of which were devoted to the subject of protecting the employer’s intellectual property.
Adelisa had the “mirror image” concern. That is, over the course of several years, on her own time she had developed what she referred to as her “Golden Goose,” which was a computer program she had created entirely by herself, years ago, while working as an independent contractor. As best I can explain it (they didn’t teach this stuff in law school), it was “an algorithmic-based platform that could ‘carry’ various data packages to test predictive capacities.” Adelisa said it was actually based on “digital intuition,” and was a type of artificial intelligence.
Her “mirror image” concern was how she could use her “Golden Goose” on the job, yet not lose any of her rights in and to it. The draft employment agreement, like most, provided that anything and everything she might use to do her work for this employer would automatically be deemed the employer’s sole property. She asked if we could help her respond to that language, in order to protect her “Golden Goose.”
It was an interesting project, and the results were well worth it. First, her new job went very well, and her compensation was very significant. And, when, years later, she eventually departed from the company for “greener pastures,” there were no disputes, no claims, and no threats regarding her “Golden Goose,” which was precisely her goal. Mission accomplished.
LESSON TO LEARN: With few exceptions, everything in life – and that includes work life – can be “navigated and negotiated” in wise ways. Taking care, when entering into new work relations, to try to prevent problems from arising in the future, is the wisest of wise ways, and always worth the effort.
In two ways, employees often lose their rights in their pre-existing creations: (1) law (the “Work for Hire” rule), and (2) by agreements they are asked to sign (often called “Assignment Agreements). In this blog post, we address both, and the ways prospective employees can and should protect their “pre-existing creations” in the context of interviewing and job offers.
As a few examples, they include software, works of art, written materials, musical compositions, visual and audio presentations, and inventions. By law, they are materials that can be (a) copyrighted, (b) trademarked and/or (c) patented. By means of self-help – our favorite topic for employees – they can take steps that can protect themselves, and might be just as good, or better.
While each employee’s “pre-existing creations” are unique, and each employment dynamic is unique, there are some generalized observations we can share to assist in the process of protecting employees’ “pre-existing creations.”
As the quote above reminds us, “Create with the heart; build with the mind.” I would simply add, “And then protect what you create as best you can.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are 12 pointers for employees in Adelisa’s “shoes.” This list is not exhaustive, but it does cover most of the critical points most employees need to understand:
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