If you came up with a great idea while working at your last job, your former employer may own it. You may have signed away your rights to it in the employment contract. Even if you work as a consultant or temporary worker, agreements are usually worded so that whatever you conceive, develop, or prepare while in a company’s employ is theirs. Because of that, people serious about developing a new technology often go to work for service employers — such as restaurants, gas stations, cleaning services, and the like — that have no intellectual-product component to their business.
When you own your own company, on the other hand, it’s essential to make sure your attorney prepares an employment contract that assigns your employees’ intellectual product to you. Be clear about who owns what. In an early-stage company, much of the value comes from the talents of your employees, and they may leave your company and become your competitor if you’re careless about protecting your ideas.
Marilyn Holt, CMC Holt Capital Seattle