IP Ownership: Who's The Boss?

February 26, 2024

We quite often get asked about IP rights in an employee vs employer dynamic - it's an important question to ask, so what's the answer?!

Most employers will naturally want to own the output in respect of their employee’s time and efforts. But is this the case?

What does UK law set out?

The general position in accordance with UK laws is that if IP is created in the course of employment, then that IP will be automatically owned by the employer.  

Questions can arise in respect of what is meant by “during the course of employment” and it is always advisable to try and define and scope this as much as possible, to avoid any disputes in the future.  

How should I address IP rights with employees?

The quick answer here is: your employer contracts! Although the default position under UK law is favourable to the employer, it is still best practice to have provisions which cover IP ownership in any employment contract.  

There may be situations where the default position should not apply, and this should be covered appropriately to make sure both parties are comfortable with who owns what when it comes to IP ownership. For example, an employment contract may specifically need to address what IP an employee owns if it does not in any way relate to their job description or if it is created outside work hours.  

Does the same default provision apply if I engage a third-party contractor or freelancer?

The quick answer here is: no!

The default position does not apply to freelancers, contractors or any individuals who are not employed. It is the case that IP will still belong to them unless it is assigned to you. This assignment will need to be made in writing. If you are a business that is regularly engaging third parties to create content then it is best practice to have your own template IP assignment agreement which covers everything you need it to, to make sure your business owns all IP rights that it should.  

How can we help?

We can help to review existing employment and contractor agreements to make sure your IP ownership position is covered. If an IP assignment is more suitable for your worker arrangements - we can help with that too. To speak to a member of the team about IP ownership with your workers or to discuss IP ownership and interactions with third parties more generally, you can reach us here.

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