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Businesses Programming The Almighty Buck

GitHub Now Lets Its Workers Keep the IP When They Use Company Resources For Personal Projects (qz.com) 75

If it's on company time, it's the company's dime. That's the usual rule in the tech industry -- that if employees use company resources to work on projects unrelated to their jobs, their employer can claim ownership of any intellectual property (IP) they create. But GitHub is throwing that out the window. From a report on Quartz: Today the code-sharing platform announced a new policy, the Balanced Employee IP Agreement (BEIPA). This allows its employees to use company equipment to work on personal projects in their free time, which can occur during work hours, without fear of being sued for the IP. As long as the work isn't related to GitHub's own "existing or prospective" products and services, the employee owns it. Like all things related to tech IP, employee agreements are a contentious issue. In some US states, it's not uncommon for contracts to give companies full ownership of all work employees produce during their tenure, and sometimes even before and after their tenure, regardless of when or how they produce it. These restrictions have led to several horror stories, like the case of Alcatel vs. Evan Brown.
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GitHub Now Lets Its Workers Keep the IP When They Use Company Resources For Personal Projects

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  • Don't tell anyone you're working on something.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is a crazy coincidence. I am expecting a job offer in 1.5 hours (the "next steps" call is scheduled at that time). I work in research, and I do not have a broad IP assignment agreement. However, extremely broad IP assignment agreements are the norm in my state. I have already decided that I will not take this job if it requires signing a broad IP assignment agreement. Does anyone have experience negotiating this? I would be returning to production software development on a core implementation team. Are

    • Spending the *time* to work on something for outside work during working hours is a liability to keeping your job IMHO.
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      As with any contract, everything is negotiable. Just don't use company resources to do it, because then it can be either appropriated or considered theft.

      In the past I just crossed out everything I didn't like from the contract and returned it. In most of my current contracts I have an agreement that everything I do for the company will be open sourced.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Posting as AC due to pending litigation on this very topic.

      I find that companies vary widely in their stances on IP agreements. In the past year, I have had one company refuse to negotiate on the agreement; one company who was willing to negotiate, but unable to come to terms; and one with whom I had a brief and production conversation which made all parties happy.

      I'll give you three guesses to which company I'm working for now.

      The company who insisted I sign the agreement as stated, without modification,

  • I struggle a bit to understand why this isn't a bigger issue. I mean, I understand why employers would want to own anything employees create -- free labor, ability to quash disruptive technology, and all that -- but when so many political noises are made about innovation, and you have company policies that clearly disincentivize it on the part of individuals, I wonder why some politician hasn't attempted to differentiate themselves by even mentioning the stifling effect on innovation such policies impose.

    • I struggle a bit to understand why this isn't a bigger issue. I mean, I understand why employers would want to own anything employees create -- free labor, ability to quash disruptive technology, and all that -- but when so many political noises are made about innovation, and you have company policies that clearly disincentivize it on the part of individuals, I wonder why some politician hasn't attempted to differentiate themselves by even mentioning the stifling effect on innovation such policies impose.

      As an engineer, I'd think that more similarly inclined people would want to have at least an opportunity to pursue non-work related projects on their own time, but I guess I'm in the minority. Actually, I suppose that pretty much addresses my own question; after all, if essentially nobody is complaining, then there's no reason to call into question exploitative, innovation-quashing practices.

      Anyway, good on GitHub for doing this.

      It sounds crazy and barbaric, but look at it this way? Ethics wise how would you feel if you paid someone out of your own money and also paid for his equipment and time and he used your money to compete against you?

      This is not about stealing ideas. It is about someone elses equipment for your own gain. To me that is unethical. I had a job once where I was paid by the hour for tech work. I went into the MDF to apply for jobs and do some interviews when time was free. Lo and behold got scoldered by a coworker

      • by Pascoea ( 968200 )
        I disagree on a few points. What it sounds like GitHub is doing is allowing their employees to work on their outside pet projects, as long as it doesn't directly compete with anything GitHub does. I don't see anything wrong with that, as long as the employees are doing it on their personal time. (From the summary, it sounds like they allow employees a certain amount of free time during the day to do with what they please) It's not like the extra equipment usage cost GitHub anything, the equipment is a s
        • What's "the company dime"? The time they are compensating you for, or the equipment they purchased?

          Both, if not agreed to.

        • Salaried positions are a fuzzy area in this. Many companies seem to feel that if they pay you a salary, they're entitled to your productivity 168 hours per week, and any time that you spend eating, sleeping, having sex, enjoying time with your friends and family, etc. is simply their magnanimous gift to you and your "work-life balance".

          This is precisely why I clock in and out, even when not required. And I generally have some sort of understanding in writing that the company's right to my productivity are

      • I could have been clearer in my description, but I wasn't talking about working on a private project on company time, or even using company equipment; I was talking about working independently on a private project. Even if that independent project is unrelated to an employer's product lines, many employers still claim ownership via their employment contracts. That's what I have a problem with. I don't have a problem with a company disapproving of your job application example because, as you said, that's don
      • It sounds crazy and barbaric, but look at it this way? Ethics wise how would you feel if you paid someone out of your own money and also paid for his equipment and time and he used your money to compete against you?

        That's how Intel and AMD started out of Fairchild Semiconductor. Plus how Apple started out of Atari. I could continue here.

    • I struggle a bit to understand why this isn't a bigger issue. ... I wonder why some politician hasn't attempted to differentiate themselves by even mentioning the stifling effect on innovation [company-owns-all-your-inventions] policies impose.

      Because it's already been adressed, long ago.

      GitHub is in San Francisco, which is in California and governed by California labor law.

      California labor law says that (paraphrasing from memory):
      - As a compelling state interest
      - overriding anything in the

  • Keeping an IP? I thought DNS solves the problem entirely.
  • I solved this problem at my last two employers by releasing everything with open source licenses. That way it doesn't matter as much who the copyright holder is.

    • I solved this problem at my last two employers by releasing everything with open source licenses.

      If your employment agreement says your employer owns everything, just because you slap an OSS license on something doesn't make it legally valid.

      • by MartinG ( 52587 )

        Yes it does. You are confusing copyright holder with rights given by that holder to anyone else. As long as the rights granted are sufficient, it doesn't matter who holds the copyright. I have talked this through with a lawyer in the past.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The copyright holder can revoke the license. It's why the Free Software Foundation insists on copyright assignment, so the FSF owns GNU and the GPL can't be revoked on GNU Project software.

      I know Stallman is a smelly old fool to you "open source" retards, but he perfected copyleft decades ago. You would know that, if you weren't insanely obsessed with exploiting intellectual property to make yourselves wealthy.

      • by MartinG ( 52587 )

        > The copyright holder can revoke the license.

        Not every type of license.

        > I know Stallman is a smelly old fool to you "open source" retards, but he perfected copyleft decades ago. You would know that, if you weren't insanely obsessed with exploiting intellectual property to make yourselves wealthy.

        Are you going for the world record attempt at the number of false assumptions in a single sentence?

        I highly respect Stallman, I know exactly when he perfected copyleft, I prefer Free Software to other types

  • Why would any company allow ex-employees to keep their IP address?
  • Really? I guess it depends a lot on the country etc, but in NZ/Aus/UK I was under the impression that ownership of all employee generated IP, even outside work time and unrelated to company activities, was the default position. Having said that it is a while since I have signed an employment contract.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is no such thing as intellectual property.

  • sometimes even before and after their tenure , regardless of when or how they produce it

    Emphasis mine. Now provide cites and back it up.

    • An employment contract I didn't sign with a Fortune 50 company included granting them full rights to any works of authorship I had ever generated.
  • how does that even work? I can at least understand that if you are at your cubicle being paid a salary and you're working on your "next big thing", I can see why a company would claim ownership over it. They paid for it after all.

    But what you do outside of that cubicle on your own time is your own business, not theirs. And worse, how can they claim retroactive ownership over something you made before you even joined the company?

    Are there seriously no programming jobs available in your country that you feel

    • It is the logical result of legal paranoia. In the companies mind they don't want to get sued for royalties from an employee who claims that the big thing he implemented belonged to him due to it being developed prior to joining the company, so you get prior ownership. Similarly companies don't want folks leaving when an idea they are having is just getting interesting and starting their own company by regurgitating the ideas and claiming they own it, hence the post ownership.

      As an employee you are a cog.

    • The threat of a potential lawsuit is enough to keep everyone in line. Whether the company has the resources to pursue a lawsuit is a different story. Most NDAs and/or IP agreements are pretty much the same. You sign it, forget about it, and move on with your life.
  • Admittedly, I've been lucky with the job I've had the past several years. I've been developing an inventory management system and ecommerce platform for my day-job, but the underlaying libraries are shared with personal projects of mine. Company owner agreed the underlaying libraries are my property, not the company's, because I develop them on my free time for personal sites too. It basically has become a shared resource for both that I get to retain.

    I know this isn't the norm in the industry. But I'm glad

  • An v4 IP might be worth something; v6, not so much...

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire

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