Pulling rank - success for employers over the right to employees' inventions


A former employee of Euronext-Liffe, the derivatives exchange, recently lost his appeal against a High Court decision that patent rights to the electronic trading system he had invented belonged to his former employers. As it is rare for such a case to reach the Court of Appeal, this is one of the first to test the legal issues surrounding the ownership of inventions of staff undertaken in the course of their employment but not related to their formal duties.

Employers can breathe a sigh of relief at the Court of Appeal outcome. This acknowledges that in determining whether an invention is born out of an employee’s normal or additional duties, it is not sufficient to only consider the terms contained in employment contract. The Patents Act is the ultimate arbiter of position.

The case shows that the Court will look beyond an employment contract and find that additional duties may well have become normal over time. This is a concept that should provide some comfort to employers whose staff undertake creative work that is unrelated to their formal duties.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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