The New Jersey Assembly recently passed legislation that governs provisions contained in employment agreements related to the intellectual property created by an employee. The bill, Assembly Bill No. 492, aims to protect an employee’s rights to the exclusive ownership and usage of any employee invention developed on the employee’s own time and wholly without using any employer resources."Under current law in New Jersey, nothing prevents an employer from acquiring the rights to any such employee invention through the express terms of an employment contract,” said Rep. Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) in a press statement. “This bill would prevent the employer's acquisition of rights to the invention through such a contract, thereby preserving the employee's rights to the employee's own invention."
Employment Agreements Governing IP
Employers do not automatically assume the rights to any intellectual property (IP) created by their employees. Under U.S. patent law, inventors are presumed to hold ownership rights, and patents must typically be filed under the name of the inventor. Accordingly, many businesses use employment agreements to govern the ownership of employee-created IP, such as an assignment-of-inventions agreement or work-for-hire agreement.
Provisions of Assembly Bill No. 492
The proposed legislation bans any provision in an employment contract between an employee and employer that requires the assignment by the employee of any employee invention developed entirely on the employee’s own time and without using the employer’s equipment, supplies, facilities or information, including trade secrets. However, the prohibition shall not apply to “inventions that: (a) relate to the employer’s business or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development; or (b) result from any work performed by the employee on behalf of the employer.” To the extent any provision in an employment contract applies, or intends to apply, to an employee invention subject to the law, the provision will be deemed against the public policy and unenforceable.
In addition, Assembly Bill No. 492 provides that, outside the context of an employment contract, if an employee voluntarily offers his or her employer an opportunity to acquire any of the employee’s rights to an invention to which the bill applies, the employer would have no more than nine months from the initial date of the employee’s offer to accept or reject the opportunity to acquire any rights. After this period, the employee would retain all the rights to the invention, and the employer would be barred from any further opportunity to acquire any of the rights. As amended prior to passage by the Assembly, the bill expressly states that it “does not impede or otherwise diminish the rights of alienation of inventors or patent-owners.”
The bill, as written, “shall apply to any employment contract entered into on or after that effective date of enactment.”
The New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed the bill on November 21, 2016, but a companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate. We will continue to track the status of the proposed legislation and post updates as they become available.
Are you a New Jersey business owner unsure of how this employee invention bill could potentially affect your business? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, Jason Mushnick, at 201-806-3364.