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I am a mobile developer in my day job.

During my free time (nights and weekends), I develop my personal hobby projects. After I have published my iPhone apps, my company told me they own all rights to any technology related stuff that I create during my term. I read the contract, it is true, it is harsh.

Is there better company policy on developing hobby projects? What's yours?

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A contract can have any kind/type of conditions. However it is really up to the law as to whether or not those conditions are valid/enforcable. In countries with legal systems based on common law, such clauses are not valid, and in fact any actions taken by the company against you can be used as the basis of a civil suite. So in short, do not engage such comments made by your employer unless it is made by their lawyers and when they do get the lawyers involved, prey that you're in a place in the world that practises and endorses sane ratio decidendi. –  sonicoder Mar 18 '11 at 3:39
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If you need a new hobby, violate some big company's patent with your iphone app, get them to sue you, and hand the lawsuit over to your boss. Hey, they own it :-) –  GrandmasterB Mar 18 '11 at 6:20
    
@samwize, It's like working for Disney –  DisEngaged Mar 18 '11 at 6:45
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Mar 18 '11 at 5:01

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9 Answers

I think full time employment implies that your free time, vacations and weekend times belong to the employer and therefore any product you do during these times especially when it's competing with employer products will result in conflict of interest. If you want to be more free you may consider switching to part time because then only hours counted inside the organization are considered theirs.

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You might be interested in this article by Joel Spolsky.

Here

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If you did the work on your OWN time on your own computer using your own software, I can't see any reason it wouldn't be YOUR software/app.

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if you're developing in the same area... they can still have a good cause though (competition ?) –  Matthieu M. Mar 18 '11 at 19:08
    
There are a lot of court cases that have ruled otherwise. –  Tangurena Mar 22 '11 at 19:15
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First, decide how important your side projects are to you. You may have options to avoid handing your apps over, but those options may cost you in the day job. Many places in the US have "at will" employment, which means you can get fired at any time for any reason, and in most jobs if management doesn't like you management can make your life less pleasant.

Second, recognize that you're in a bad position here. You do mobile development for a living, and at night you do mobile development on your own. If you do the same thing for your employer and on your off hours, you're competing with them, and it'll be hard to show you aren't using employer resources. You're much better off if your side projects are considerably different from your employment, so it's clear that your side projects and job are separate, and that you aren't competing with your employer.

Third, you can always negotiate, even when you're working under a contract. Ask for exemption from that for specific purposes, and see what conditions they're willing to accept. This may not work, of course, but it's unlikely to hurt your career. (If I were your manager, I'd be very reluctant to allow you to have independent projects that competed in any way with the company, but much more open to unrelated side projects.)

Fourth, you can check the law in your jurisdiction, because those contract terms are illegal in some places. Don't count on the company having checked to see if all contract terms are enforceable, because they apparently don't sometimes. They may have operations in several jurisdictions, and have a standard contract. They may not have run the contract past a lawyer to make sure it's all legal and enforceable. They may know terms are unenforceable, but put them in anyway. If in doubt, consult a lawyer (and you yourself should consult one anyway if you're interested, given that both your job and your hobby are mobile development). You can use that as leverage in negotiations, or go to court if you want to badly enough, but that isn't going to help your day job.

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I told my company before taking the job.

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Personally I'm not sure I'd want to work for a company that was so unscrupulous that they'd go after an employee's unrelated products. Ideally, you should tell them to change the clause or you walk.

Now if you are creating competing products, thats a whole different issue and they'd be right to have problems with that.

In the past I had an employer change the contract before I'd sign it to something along the lines of 'all (specific industry) software created', as opposed to any IP. ie, I couldnt create a competing product, but for non-competing products the IP is 100% mine (which was fine for me, as my personal projects were completely unrelated)

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Mobile developer by day, iPhone app writer at night....that seems too close for my taste. Keep your day jobs and side projects well separated. –  David Thornley Mar 18 '11 at 19:42
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Merely developing for the same kind of device doesnt make it 'close'. If his company develops real-estate apps, and in his free time he's making iphone games, thats simply unrelated. Companies should encourage that, so that their developers get exposed to other areas of development. Then that breadth of experience can be taken advantage of when the company develops new products/features. –  GrandmasterB Mar 18 '11 at 20:28
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Depending on how important the "hobby" project is, you could always look at disputing the legality or limits of the contract. While I am NOT a lawyer I know that some jurisdictions prohibit or impose limits on these sorts of clauses, but you should keep in mind that you did sign a legal document and are likely bound by it.

As for how normal it is... almost every technology company I've worked with has tried to include a similar soul sucking clause as part of their standard contract. While I'm not looking to debate the ethics or morality behind them, it's up to you to be aware (and limit) what rights you give your employer.

I personally refuse to sign any contract that gives away ownership for work performed off the clock. Put simply, my ideas are my own and if anyone's going to profit from them, it's going to be me :)

Hope this helps!

-Chris

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That's a common policy, and that is why it's very important to read you employment contracts before you sign them.

I have twice been given employment contracts with clauses like that to sign. In both cases, I said that I was not happy with the clause, and asked nicely if they'd be willing to amend it. In both cases, it was amended without argument.

Even now that you have already done work that falls under that ugly clause in your contract, you can ask nicely if they'd be willing to transfer ownership back to you for the code that you wrote. Chances are, it will not be something they think they're likely to monetize, and they'll have no reason to say no.

Oh -- I also seem to recall that such clauses are null and void under California law, so if you're working in CA for a company in CA, you might be in luck (not a lawyer -- don't quote me).

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It will be nice if it can be amended without argument. Thanks for the advise. –  samwize Mar 18 '11 at 3:52
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It really depends on the company, and you may want to read about answers in the start up page

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Nice article/post –  Dawson Mar 18 '11 at 3:49
    
A long and informative post! Perhaps I can get more answers from answers.onstartups.com.. –  samwize Mar 18 '11 at 3:50
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