Work Product Disputes

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What is “Work Product” in an Employment Setting?

In an employment setting, the term “work product” refers to anything created by an employee that becomes property of the employer under certain conditions.  Common examples of this are clothing designs, beverage formulas, or food recipes created by an employee that are then owned by the employer once the work is finished. 

In most cases, the ownership arrangement is governed specifically by a work product clause in the employment contract.  For example, the contract might contain a clause stating, “All employment-related work created by the employee in the course of the employment is property of the company”. 

Note:  In an attorney-client relationship setting, the term “work product” refers to work that is done by an attorney in preparation for trial (such as their notes, legal research, conversations with the client, etc.).  Work product is usually protected, meaning that the other party can’t access it if it was prepared in preparation for trial.

What are Some Common Work Product Disputes?

Most people expect that the work that they do for the company they work for will become the company’s property.  They may even be required to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding the work.  However, work product matters can often be the source of many legal disputes, including:

There may also be many other kinds of work product disputes, depending on the nature of the employment agreement, as well as the employment laws for that particular state.

What Clauses and Terms Are Used in Employment Contracts To Limit Work Product Disputes?

There are a number of clauses and terms an employment contract can contain to control employee work product. These are usually referred to as Pre-Invention Assignment Agreements. These agreements assign to the company all ownership of the inventions and work product that the employee may create during the course of his or her employment.
The agreements may vary greatly between contract to contract depending upon the employer’s needs. Such agreements may include the following provisions:

What Happens If There Isn’t an Agreement or Contract Regarding Work Product Ownership?

If a written contract doesn’t govern work product ownership, an employer may still claim that an oral contract was formed during the course of the employment. Such claims must be proven of course, but assuming that such an agreement was discussed but not written down, there are some basic ground rules that courts may use to determine the limits of such disputes.

What if I’ve Been Involved in a Work Product Dispute?

Work product disputes can mostly be avoided through clear communication, straight-forward negotiation, and a precisely written contract.  If you don’t want to share your work product with an employer, the subject matter may be up for negotiation.  However, if your employment is dependent on submitting your work to the employer’s ownership, it may cause you to rethink your work options.

Most work product disputes require the filing of a lawsuit in a civil court of law.  If you’re considering such an action, you should take the following steps:

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have a Work Product Dispute?

Work product disputes can often have long-term consequences.  For example, the worker may lose their right to reap income from the product in the long run.  Work product disputes generally require the assistance of a qualified lawyer.  An attorney can help you file the claim in a court of law and can assist you with various legal tasks.   An experienced lawyer in your area can help you receive a legal remedy for your losses, such as a damages award. 

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Last Modified: 09-26-2012 11:31 AM PDT

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