Guide

Protecting intellectual property

Intellectual property rights and your employees

It's likely that your employees will create work that carries intellectual property (IP) rights.

This does not just apply to those who are developing inventions in a research and development department. Staff could also be creating potentially valuable IP if, for example, they are:

  • compiling databases
  • writing marketing material
  • producing training brochures

Rights to IP created by employees generally belong to the employer.

IP and employment contracts

Showing that a member of staff has an employment contract is usually enough to prove you own all IP rights. But it's a good idea to state the position explicitly in separate clauses of employees' contracts.

This prevents any confusion arising - perhaps over work created outside office hours or as a by-product of specified work.

You may also want to ask employees to record information relating to any innovative work they do in a logbook.

Moral rights vs economic rights

Unless otherwise explicitly stated in their contracts, employees will retain the moral rights to any literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works created as part of their employment.

This means they can object to distortions of their work and retain the right to be identified as its author, but have no economic rights over it. If you want to obtain the moral rights in your employees' work you must state this clearly in employment contracts.

Read more about your economic rights from owning copyright.

Dealing with sensitive information

Your employees may also have access to sensitive information about IP. It can make good business sense to include confidentiality clauses in your employment contracts.

You may want to seek legal advice when drawing up contracts. To find a solicitor, search the solicitor directory of the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

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