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No contract - who owns my work?

No contract - who owns my work?

No contract - who owns my work?

I was working as an entry-level structural engineer for a startup company and did not sign a contract of any kind.

After sending in my letter of resignation, I went into the office to get my stuff and discovered that they had gone through the folders at my desk and taken out all the handwritten calculations and sketches I had done for them. The funny thing is that they were not very thorough; I had a clipboard lying in plain sight on my desk with some more pages of calcs and they did not take those.

I also was using my own personal laptop at work, which contains a lot more stuff I did for them, and they have not requested I turn over any of that work.

I just want to know what my position is in this situation and if that work belongs to them or me, and/or if they were wrong in going through my stuff.

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Sounds like they did what was within legal bounds.  You resigned, so they shuffled through work-related material and removed what they deemed necessary.  It's not your stuff.

Since it was a personal laptop, not work, they have no right to look through it without a court order, and they rightfully stayed away (though they should likely have been more concerned in the past about you doing work on a personal laptop if they wanted things back in the end).

If it's work-related, whether on a clipboard in plain sight, your personal laptop, etc., it should all be returned to them.  They paid for the work, so they own it.

Dan - Owner

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Wait for it...wait for it...you're gonna get that quote from that guy who always says one shouldn't get legal advice from a bunch of engineers...wait for it...       ...(he's right, of course).

Many times an employee will sign an employment agreement, and many times those documents state that any and all work, thoughts, molecules of air, bodily effluents, random ideas, and anything else you produce or consume while in the employ of the company belongs to the company.  Enforcement of such conditions is another thing, entirely.  Did you sign any such agreement?  If not, then it seems that there is enough company-employee lunacy going on here (they let you use your personal laptop??) to create so many gray areas that any contentious disagreement would be settled in the lawyer's offices and increase said lawyer's takehome pay quite nicely in the bargain.

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

I guess I'm "that guy".

This looks like a case where what they took belongs to them, what they didn't take is yours.  I'd leave it at that and get on with my life.  Talk to a lawyer if you want any of what they took back (he'll most likely tell you to forget it).  If they get a lawyer and demand you return or destroy stuff that they didn't take, I'd return or destroy it.  It is unlikely that any of your hand calculations are worth falling on your sword over.

My experience says that anything I create while my time is being paid for belongs to the people paying for my time.  If I write a document while being paid by client "A", I can't provide it to client "B" or publish it without permission (I'm in that situation right now, I wrote a document that my client owns that I think would further my client's position if I published it but their lawyer has it under review so I won't publish it until/unless they give permission--I don't own it even though it came from my creative processes).

On the other hand, if I develop a process (like a MathCad sheet that does a great job of capturing and presenting a complex calculation that I have to do all the time), then reusing the process (but not the client's data) seems to be within the lines, and all my clients benefit from several of those situtions.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering
Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips Fora.

"It is always a poor idea to ask your Bridge Club for medical advice or a collection of geek engineers for legal advice"

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Well my brother is a lawyer and he needs to eat, also.  And asking a bunch of engineers a legal question - well you get what you paid for.

So you resigned.  I assume you planned that??  If so and you wanted copies of your work - you should have planned on that also.  Maybe not totally legal - but at least you could have pulled it off.

What you do at work - belongs to work!!

I agree w/ ZDAs04 - get on with your life.  Anything you did - you can probably re-create if need be.

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

The question I have is why do you care?  Unless there is some ground breaking thought contained in the doc's, move on.   

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

tygerdawg put it nicely, there was a lot of company-employee lunacy going on and that was my main reason for resigning. I'm certainly not going to get any lawyers involved. Thanks for clarifying the matter everyone.

RE: No contract - who owns my work?


   Is this an amicable parting, or are you all pissed off at each other?


RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Funny you ask, it was not at all amicable. I did not feel like I was in a position to do my job correctly because I did not have the proper resources and support. Trying to talk about it accomplished nothing. Then I eventually started seeing some questionable ethical practices that I decided to say something about and I was actually harassed for blowing the whistle.

Bottom line is, I no longer felt comfortable having my name associated with the projects.

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Is it possible the notes they took were "proof" of these unethical doings?

If so, I hope they don't implicate you in any way...

Dan - Owner

RE: No contract - who owns my work?

Nope, definitely not. Thanks for asking though.

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