Who owns a company’s best ideas? When employees and companies part ways, complicated ownership disputes can arise over rights with respect to IP, trade secrets, and other confidential company information. It’s a topic that came up as a discussion on the LinkedIn page of In The House—a web-based professional networking community for in-house counsel—so we asked a few ITH lawyers with in-house experience how companies can ensure that when employees leave, they don’t take valuable information or intellectual property with them.
All of the lawyers who posted to the discussion thread agreed that the best time to formally define trade secret and intellectual property parameters is when the employee first walks through the door, not when they’re headed for the exit.
William Wilson, former in-house counsel at Motorola Inc. and Siemens Corporation, says that the beginning of employment is “the one golden opportunity you have to make the relationship clear.” This can be especially important under certain state employment statutes—some states make it more difficult to keep trade secrets and other confidential information under wraps if agreements aren’t solidified during the hiring process.