Skip the navigation

Marketing your own ideas

Got a hot idea of your own for an IT product? Your employer can wind up as friend or foe, depending on how you handle matters.

By Joanie Wexler
January 17, 2000 12:00 PM ET

Today's cybercentric economy is fueling IT innovation left and right. Any day now, it might be your turn to bolt awake in the middle of the night with your own technology idea and yell, "Aha!"
If you're receiving a paycheck from a permanent employer when your breakthrough idea strikes, you must tread carefully to protect your idea so you can profit from it. You have several ways to gain from your idea, all of which carry a common underlying theme: Obtain solid legal advice at every turn.
The first thing you must do is check your employment contract to see if you have signed away invention rights to your employer, says Marc Blatt, principal at the Law Offices of Marc Blatt in Los Angeles.
At a minimum, if you think you want to market your idea or prototype on your own, it's important that you conduct your development exclusively on your own time using only your own resources. The minute an employer finds an e-mail or a fax that relates to the idea, the strength of your case for ownership will founder, Blatt says.
In addition, different states have different laws that you should investigate. You can generally do this by checking the labor laws on a state's Web page. In California, for example, where information technology innovation is rampant, inventions are protected by the California Labor Code and are patentable by the employee, provided that you abide by the do-it-on-your-own-time rule. In many other states, however, employers own anything employees think up, create or develop while in their employ.
Before blabbing about your brainchild, then, it makes sense to take your employment contract to an intellectual property attorney. If you discover that chances are strong that you do indeed own the rights to your idea, you have several options for profiting from it.
Market It Yourself
The development, production, marketing and sales strategies you use will depend to a great extent on the complexity of your specific idea, says Evan Brown, a computer programmer in Cranfills Gap, Texas. Brown is currently in litigation with his former employer, DSC Communications Inc., over ownership rights to an idea Brown says he came up with for simplifying Y2K software conversions while in DSC's employ more than two years ago. The idea did relate to Brown's job description, which is what all the legal hullabaloo is about. Brown didn't make it to the point where he got to market his idea — it never got developed because it was stalled when he presented it to his superiors at DSC.
"The bigger

Our Commenting Policies