Sunday 11 March 2012

Innnovation by Employees

Last Saturday I attended a CIPIL seminar on Employees and Intellectual Property Rights. As a full day event there was far too much interesting material to summarize in a blog post. However I came away pondering whether the UK was missing an opportunity in motivating creativity within the workplace by its provisions on the relative position of employee and employer in relation to patentable inventions. The seminar included presentations on the situation elsewhere by the effervescent Professors Catherine Fisk (US), the erudite Niklas Bruun (Nordic) and the charming Matthias Leistner (Germany) as well as an insightful presentation bu Iain Purvis about almost the one and only UK employee compensation case Kelly v GE
It seems surprising that we do not have harmony in the ownership of works for hire. Employers do pretty well but the way it works is a patchwork.
Unhappy employee-inventor

An employer would probably like access to any invention made by his staff that is relevant to the business. In the Nordic countries, Germany and the US this is the case. In the US its a "shop right" to use and comes free, but elsewhere there are detailed rules about disclosure and compensation. In the UK ownership is determined by the employee's job description and duties, there is no disclosure obligation and compensation is obtainable (if at all) only after the invention or the patent for it (or the combination of both) can be shown  to have been of outstanding benefit to the employer. This is not an active policy issue so this quaint situation isn't likely to change soon. However it did cause me to ponder whether it impacts on the creativity and happiness of the inventors in the UK's larger businesses. What do you think?
Of course businesses are free to adopt their own policies to encourage and reward innovation and many have done so with the assistance of their IP strategy advisers. Its possible though, that without obligatory guidelines on remuneration as in Germany, board members may find it difficult to authorise modest payments to inventors at an early stage. The current mood of the country against the bonus culture, certainly assists here.
Is there any mileage for solo practitioners in the UK in assisting inventors seek compensation. We have the Patents County Court that should reduce the costs and although the claim will have to be limited to £500K that's not a bad lump sum. The economic evidence is still going to be the main challenge. Still if you were a named inventor in a patent your company has kept alive for its full 20 years it may be worth thinking about it.