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Does Your Employer Own Your Thoughts? 758

Posted by timothy
from the don't-answer-that-out-loud dept.
MJ writes "Evan Brown has finally lost his 7 year court battle over ownership of thoughts in his brain. Judge Henderson of the 219th District Court in Collin County, Texas granted DSC Communications Corporation, Inc (now Alcatel, USA) a Final Judgement granting DSC ownership of Mr. Brown's idea of a reverse compiler that Mr. Brown claims to have begun formulating twelve years before his employment at DSC and during his off-time while at DSC. Mr. Brown has received media coverage in print, televion and on the Internet: The John Marshall Journal of Computer & Information Law, Wired, Computerworld. This rings similar to previous Slashdot articles on employer/employee IP rights."
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Does Your Employer Own Your Thoughts?

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  • Say it isn't so (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Donoho (788900) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:15PM (#9873383) Homepage
    Just because it's the law doesn't mean it's fair. Why is it a company can own my ideas, but I can't own their software? How about leasing our ideas?
  • Sadly, yes... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dhakbar (783117) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:16PM (#9873396)
    Where I work (a well-known PC gaming company) employees must sign a document that basically states that any concepts and technology are developed while employed here are property of the company.

    In some ways, corporate America really treats employees like slaves.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:17PM (#9873407)
    Maybe it's just me, but this reporting seems so onesided. Perhaps it all boiled down to a non-compete clause that specifically forbade the guy from personally developing products similar to and based upon products sold by the company?
  • Wages for 24/7 (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:22PM (#9873471)
    If your employer owns the ideas you create after work then they should pay the appropriate wage for every waking hour of your day.
  • by numLocked (801188) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:27PM (#9873521) Homepage Journal
    It really depends on exactly what his job at DSC was. I think if his job was in any way computer-related (which it sounds like it is), he should have to turn over the idea. If he thought it was such a great idea, he should have quit and followed through with it. I don't think he can prove he thought of the idea before he started working for DSC, so it seems to me that if he hadn't been working there chances are he wouldn't have thought of it (a little chaos theory).
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:27PM (#9873533)
    which is damn generous for an IDEA.

    Had he a prototype then I could see him holding out - but he had to be greedy.

    The smart man would have jumped on that immediately and ran with the loot.

  • by hypnagogue (700024) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:31PM (#9873578)
    Well, if my employer has ownership over anything I do during my employment, then they are clearly also liable for everything I do during my employment -- the door swings both ways. In some ways, this is a triumph over onerous individual liability insurance. Next time I rear-end some bozo on the road, I'll just honk twice and tell them to bill my employer.

    Yeah, that'll work.
  • unionize (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clambake (37702) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:31PM (#9873582) Homepage
    Well if that isn't as good reason to unionize, I'm not sure what is.
  • by jfmerryman (670236) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:34PM (#9873610) Homepage
    When I was hired by my current employer, they asked me to sign the same sort of agreement - stating that they owned anything that I developed before employment (if not named), and anything I developed during my employment. I balked and they quickly produced an alternate employment agreement which granted me rights to anything I developed on my own time and without using company equipment.

    I suspect that this is fairly common practice. If you don't ask, they certainly won't offer (except in California, where I believe this is the law)
  • Google's employees (Score:5, Interesting)

    by usefool (798755) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:36PM (#9873637) Homepage
    Google encourages employees to use 1 day per week on their own hobby/project, does that mean...?
  • by wintermute42 (710554) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:38PM (#9873657) Homepage

    From a quick read of Evan Brown's web site it appears that the "unique idea" he claims is a decompiler. That is, a program that will take compiled binary code and convert it into some kind of source code. As an idea this does not seem to be terribly unique or profound. What is difficult is implementing this idea in working software.

    Evan Brown claims that the company he has been in litigation with offered him $2 million for the rights to his "idea". Apparently he turned them down. According to the web site they then sued Mr. Brown claiming to own the idea anyway.

    What I find ironic is that as an "idea" a decompiler is certainly not worth much. An actual implementation, that can be easily retargeted, might be worth $2 million, but it is not clear that this is what Mr. Brown had, or that he was capable of creating this kind of software. The guy was working as tester and debugger, not a compiler developer. His skills seem to have been hacking an existing software base, not creating new, complex software.

    While I am sympathetic with Mr. Brown's David vs. Goliath fight, it does seem that his difficulties lie in being difficult. It seems like there must have been a way out of this other than years of litigation.

    The case also seems to turn on Texas law. While I am tempted to make nasty comments about the state that elected G.W. Bush governor, I'll resist. After all he might be "elected" president and I would not want an all expense paid trip to the US resort in Cuba.

    I will note that at least in California work that you do on your own time that is not related to your employers work belongs to you. And given the history of startup companies here, it also appears that in many cases you can use related work as long as you quit first.

    Oh, and by the way, I have a compiler development background. I'd be happy to deliver a decompiler for $2 million...

  • by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:40PM (#9873687) Homepage
    (except in California, where I believe this is the law)

    This appears to be true - being a longtime Slashdot watcher I was mindful of the dangers of "Corporations owns your thoughts" clauses, but the employment agreement for my current employer includes mention of the California labor law clause that says (to summarize) that if you develop something on your own time without using the corporations resources that they can't steal it from you, though presumably you can SELL or GIVE it to them if you want to.

    With that exception mentioned in the agreement, I felt reasonably comfortable agreeing to it.

  • Re:Say it isn't so (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:41PM (#9873699)
    On top of that, I would be legally prevented from taking a job with any of their clients or their competitors for two years after leaving the company, if that were to ever happen.

    You got easy, I was offered one contract where, if I were lucky enough to find another employer that was not their client or competitor, I would still have to disclose to my ex-employer everything I did for two year after leaving so they could make sure I wasn't violating any of their IP rights. And they told me that was a "standard" contract. That was a fun day.
  • Re:Say it isn't so (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Markmarkmark (512275) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:44PM (#9873718) Homepage
    Sorry, that point of view is just wrong. As the founder of a software company, let me assure you that a reasonable proprietary rights agreement signed by all the developers at the company is essential. Without it companies could not get investors (they want to know what they are buying a piece of). Investors are where the paychecks come from. Nor could we deliver to our employee/shareholders an IPO or acquisition that will hopefully make them wealthy. Without clearly defining what the company owns, no acquirer or underwriter would ever give us the time of day.

    The company is paying cash money to the employee to do 'work-for-hire'. Unless otherwise arranged, the company should own the resulting work. The company is taking all the risk. The product may be worthless, there may be no market, but the employee has already taken his/her cash money to the bank. Yes, it's less than a owning part of the product if it's a hit but no risk/no reward.

    As for an idea that's completely unrelated to the field that the company is paying the employee to think about, and the employee had the idea on their own time and only developed it after they left the company (without using any company-related ideas or proprietary information) then that idea should belong to the employee.
  • Re:Su Do Nym (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:44PM (#9873724) Homepage Journal
    funny you say that. I have a still unread "richard bachman" novel (The Regulators) sitting right next to me.

    "so and so was found dead in his home today" joke any second now....

    What's the actual legal status of that though, should your prime publisher find out? Seems like you might be in just as much hot water, as you have to use your real name for legal tax purposes and suchlike.
  • Re:Su Do Nym (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kfg (145172) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:53PM (#9873815)
    What's the actual legal status of that though, should your prime publisher find out?

    Using a psuedonym to disguise your identity to intentionally avoid legal consequences of this sort is legally a form of fraud.

    If you get away with it, well and good, and many actually do. Perhaps even most.

    But if you don't you've just upped the ante from civil to criminal.

    KFG
  • Re:Sadly, yes... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geek (5680) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:54PM (#9873816) Homepage
    "Sure, that may mean you don't get the job... is that really so bad?"

    It's been 3 years since I could find a decent paying job that paid the bills. So yes, it's really that bad. If it was one or two companies doing this then you could just not sign and move on, however it's now industry standard and unavoidable anywhere within this country.

    If there was some revolt where people didn't sign anymore, guess what, that's what off shoring is. I was replaced by an Indian at my last good paying job. I got stuck working at a grocery store and was again recently fired and replaced with an illegal Mexican. It's a problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:54PM (#9873819)
    Before you are employed, you should assign all your IP to a discretionary equitable trust of which you are the trustee. Also, sign a nondisclosure with your equitable trust. Thus, you cannot tell your current employer what is in the trust because you agreed not to and they cannot get you to break the confidence of another if they expect you to uphold their confidence.

    The trust (or double use) was originally created to help women own property when it was illegal. It only seems fit to use it here when it is illegal to own your own thoughts.

    IANAL - this could be wrong!
  • by Kenrod (188428) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @07:54PM (#9873822)
    IMO the contract isn't valid. It can be nullified by a legal concept known as bilateral mistake. Both sides agreed to something that could never be delivered - a Concept cannot be delivered. It can be written down and tranferred, but that is not a concept, it is proposal, or a specification, or a screenplay, or a blueprint, or just ordinary notes. It can be spoken about at length, but that is not a concept, it's a speech, or a lecture, or a presentation.

    If you think it can, I've got a big sack of joy to sell you cheap.

    If you think it can, why not go down to the patent office and patent that great idea for a cheap fusion reactor you've got rolling around in your head? The patent office is a disaster, but even they will want something in writing...

    The truth is concepts can't be sold. So it's bilateral mistake, case closed. Dipshit judges will be the ruin of us all.

    The only case Alcatel might have is non-performance of duties (they could sue for monetary damages), but since Texas is a right-to-work state, that will never fly.

  • Liability? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wayward (770747) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:04PM (#9873906)
    So if the company claims ownership of anything you come up with, even if it's not related to your work, does that mean that they're also liable for it? Imagine John Q Public worked for FacelessCorp, and they had such an agreement. What if John's after-hours hobby included virus creation and one of them caused a big problem? Is FacelessCorp liable since they claim to "own" it?
  • Bull (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:05PM (#9873924) Homepage Journal
    What ahppens when every company has a contract that says they own everything you think of, even before employment? Are we all suppose to starve, because thats what it comes down to, go hungry, or let the 'Corp' own everything.
    It seems to me that shouldn'e be allowed and WE do need government intervention to maitain a balance.

  • Re:Sadly, yes... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) <seebert42@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:17PM (#9874039) Homepage Journal
    35% of our industry is in that position. The rest could be in that position VERY easily. If you think you've gotten a good deal from a manager- better count your fingers, your toes, and your children- something will be missing.
  • The problem is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fpga_guy (753888) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:25PM (#9874127)
    The problem is that in working with any reasonable tech company, you are going to be exposed to ideas that will co-mingle with any existing or new "private" ideas of your own.

    It's the nature of human creativity, and it's almost impossible (and meaningless) to disentangle the two.

    Clearly, blanket assignment of all "IP" (I hate that term) to the employer is not fair, but nor is it reasonable to argue that his private stuff is completely seperate.

    A reasonable reward scheme for new ideas generated by employees would be the best idea - isn't that what IBM (and recently Microsoft) does? Basically you assign the patent to the company, but you are listed as the inventor and get a license income stream plus "invention bonus"...

  • by eric76 (679787) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:26PM (#9874132)
    it is not clear that this is what Mr. Brown had, or that he was capable of creating this kind of software

    Actually, Evan is one of the most capable and impressive software developers I've ever known.

    If most people had made the statements that Evan made, I would not have believed them. But considering the source, if Evan claimed he could do it, I am quite confident that he could do it.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:30PM (#9874170) Homepage
    Okay for one thing, I'd have to say that even if this thing goes on and a final outcome, no matter what it is, is arrived at, this idea cannot be patented. There is WAY too much prior art out there.

    I cannot point to any prior art in particular, but I have thought of that idea myself and I don't consider myself to be anything close to an exceptional thinker-of-new-ideas... it seems every time I think I thought a new thought, someone else has thought of it before me. Given that, you can bet there is prior art up the wazoo.

    So what is it Alcatel hopes to gain from this? If it's a patent, it's lame and will not last long even if it's awarded. If it's this guy's software if he ever codes it successfully, I can't see where they have any rights to it if he does... unless they have a patent on the idea... but it'll be overturned when prior art comes out and it will.

    This is a REALLY stupid case... what am I missing?
  • Re:Sadly, yes... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:41PM (#9874266)
    Like I said, I've walked out of offers myself when unemployed, it's not too hard. But you're right that there must be laws to protect us more. However, this is the USA we're talking about (and why I said "American employees") where people prefer as little government intervention as possible, and, dare I say, let themselves be raped by corporations who regularly do get the government to act for their advantage.
  • by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @08:43PM (#9874277) Journal
    If you read the story it really does sound like they company should own the idea. I mean he was working on this stuff for them while 'on the clock' so to speak.

    I mean great so I have this idea for a really clever interface for this asset traking software I am developing for our departments use at the office. Well thats cool but I can't go code up a generic version at home and try and mass market it, The company owns the UI after all I might have had some of the more interesting ideas talking to may coworker while we were out to lunch but all the reall work was done for the corp. Its why they pay me my salary and don't hire some other person instead. I have good ideas(sometimes) and they value them. Its a resource I bring to the table the same way I bring any other skills I may have.

    One intersting rub though on all this is certain ideas carry a liability. Like say I have this really clever way to disable some sorta DRM for some corporate and leagal perpose. I then go ask my manager as I sometimes do "Hey I found a way to do cool thing X can I put it out on the net so others might find it useful" Being an OSS fan himself he will say yes. Now the next DCSS or some such is an Idea I had but don't own, hmm who is responsible for the consequenses?
  • by 955301 (209856) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:11PM (#9874483) Journal
    If you plan to work on anything related to your career outside of the company, create a corporation and work through it!! Companies don't write subcontract agreements that encroach on the sub's intellectual property, which is what you have! They write employment agreements that do.

    If you plan on doing something with your ideas, then commit! Start an S-Corp, get some liability insurance, and have your "employer" pay you by invoice instead, and sub out your own payroll. You will NEVER be asked to give up your company's intellectual property by any business you truly want to work with.

    Sure the opportunities are more slim, but hey, you're coming up with stuff on your own time, so put your money where your mouth is.

    I did this and my client started with a subcontractor agreement that explicitly stated that my IP was my IP and their IP was theirs. It was refreshing.

    Yes, Virginia, the laws are made to benefit the corporation. So Incorporate!
  • Re:Say it isn't so (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gnuLNX (410742) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:11PM (#9874485) Journal
    "How'd you get the money for a computer? "
    ---I started a business.

    "Nevermind that somebody is paying for your internet access."
    --Nope I pay for it myself.

    "It's called capitalism, it actually works, and its the least wrong idea we've come up with so far"
    ---couldn't agree more here.
    ---still can't give up your rights.

    "If you don't have a better idea,"
    --so how many ideas have you brought into the world of busines....remember I own my own business.

    "then stop mooching and start working."
    --good point....I already worked 11 hours today...I should probably get some sleep...tomorrow...you know one of those big days were I have to go to the office...my own office.

    Oh and for the sake of making a point to you again. I don't force my employees into unfair non-compete agreements...actually I encourage entreprenurial spirit....at the tone of splitting it straight down the line with them....funny thing is my previous employer...yeah they were only willing to give one percent on such endevours.

    " So you're a monk right?"
    --No..should meditate more..but no.

    P.S. I didn't start my business to become a billionaire...I sis hoever start it to chase a dream...so perhaps you wouldn't mind STFUing yourself you moron.

    Oh and BTW...you never made a single point about my post...as crude as my post actually was.

  • Re:Sadly, yes... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peacefinder (469349) * <alan...dewitt@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:13PM (#9874497) Journal
    You're still a fucking dumbass.

    [sarcasm] Oooh, your clever words wound me. [/sarcasm]

    I don't suppose you'd care to be more specific?

    After all, it looks to me that I am in complete agreement with what you said here: [slashdot.org]

    I've also found amusement that Uncle Sam is more than willing to spring to action to protect the rights of the corporations against a private citizen but, should any private citizen have a problem with the behavior of a major corporation, they'll have to come up with their own PIs, attorneys, and counsels who don't have the authority to just kick the door down, take everything in sight, and return most of it damaged and broken.

    What amuses me more is that >50% of the posters on /. (and in the world) have been brainwashed to think that this is the right and true way for things to work.


    I try to awaken people from the same "brainwashing" you decry, get them to not casually throw away what rights they have left, and you call me a dumbass?

    I guess I must be, because that don't make no sense.
  • My take. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maul (83993) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:14PM (#9874501) Journal
    In my opinion:

    A company should only have claim to all, or even a portion of what would otherwise be an (ex) employee's intellectual property if it meets the following criteria.

    1. The employee used company time and/or resources to implement their idea.

    2. The idea has a reasonable relation to business the company is/was involved in at the time the person was employed.

    By reasonable here, I mean similar to the following: An employee thinks of a new way to detect viruses and works for a company that makes antivirus software.

    It does not mean: The employee thinks of something "high tech" and works for a "high tech company."

    Furthermore, the burden of proof should be placed entirely on the company if they believe an employee's work rightfully belongs to them.
  • by achurch (201270) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:15PM (#9874508) Homepage

    When I changed jobs recently, this was one of the top things on my mind. So I negotiated with the company to get the following clause into my contract (translated from Japanese):

    1. All rights to inventions, technology, software, etc. ("IP") developed by Employee as a direct result of work for Employer ("Work-Related IP") belong to Employer.
    2. All rights to IP developed by Employee not as a direct result of work for Employer ("Personal IP") belong to Employee.
    3. Rights to Work-Related IP derived from or otherwise containing Personal IP are to be decided in discussions between Employer and Employee.
    4. Employer and Employee agree to execute any documents, assignations, etc. necessary to confirm IP rights.
    5. Employer agrees to pay Employee a portion of any profits made from Employee's Work-Related IP based on Employee's amount of contribution to said profits.

    Admittedly, I had the advantage that the company I work for now called me instead of me applying for a job, which gave me a fairly good bargaining position. But at least for smaller companies, where the company isn't too strangled in rules and standard procedures, something like the above shouldn't be too hard to work out--if you try.

  • by Wateshay (122749) <bill DOT nagel AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:19PM (#9874545) Homepage Journal
    I think in the case of GE, it really needs to be related specifically to your work. If you work on turbines and come up with a new idea for a turbine, they probably should own it (assuming the agreement says so). On the other hand, if you develop a new clock radio, they shouldn't automatically own that just because they have a clock radio division located five states away.
  • When I worked for companies I had a non-compete agreement that only lasted for the duration of the employment. My employers limited what tools I had, what resources I had, and how I should program (for example no OOP, follow their style and guidelines). I was very limited in what I could do, and they accused me of not meeting my potential. I argued that if they let me program my way and laid off the stress that was causing illnesses that made it harder for me to work, that I could meet my potential. Instead more stress was heaped on me, as well as verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and psychological abuse. I was given the despair treatment, to get rid of me.

    I learned from them how not to write programs, and what not to do. I feel that I can now safely develop my own programs, from scratch, to solve problems differently than their half-arsed solutions, and maybe use a different programming language or platform, that I can do better on my own than in the box they placed me in with major limits on what I could and could not do.

    I did not develop any programs or code during my off-time or break time, and I did not release any programs and this fact can be verified. I had a paper notebook I wrote ideas on while I was riding a train to and from work, but I lost it before I was let go from one company. One of my ideas, they had implemented as a Human Resource Information System. Without that notebook, I cannot prove that I had thought of it or invented it. I was let go in 2001, and from ex-coworkers I find that the IT department is still struggling because of the poor management placing limitations on staff. That the programs I wrote, they attempted to re-write to DotNet in 2001/2002 and that they are still having problems converting them.

    I feel, that after I finish college, I can safely work on programs of my own, and no past employer can own them.

    So can they try to own my thoughts after I've been let go for 2 or 3 years? I think not.
  • by deathcow (455995) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @09:56PM (#9874837)

    I used to brag about my little inventions to my boss. One time, pre-DMCA, when I worked for a medical orthopedic robotics company, I spent a few evenings of off-time trying to duplicate a software dongles functionality. I used a work digital oscillioscope to study the data patterns transpiring over the paralell port.

    Turns out the dongle had 4 distinct data patterns in it. The protected software would address the dongle with two bits to select one of those 4 patterns, and the dongle then sent the requested code out through one of the paralell port lines in serial bit by bit fashion.

    So first I used some extra 8051 micro-controllers (belonging to work) and just tried to emulate the behavior, but the 8051 was by far too slow to shift the bits in on time.

    Then I used a EPROM (again belonging to work) and some boolean logic gates, bingo.. easily fast enough to address the ROM and shift the code in on schedule. This is probably exactly what is inside the dongle. It worked perfect. I could copy a dongle.

    I was pretty excited and shared my creation with the CEO. He got excited and asked me if I could make a version of it that just accepted the original dongle and watched it for a bit, and then could emulate it, allowing the user to "back up" their dongles in case they lost theirs or what not. Sure, no problem.

    He called the company lawyer right there to ask the legality of such a device, and all the lawyer wanted to know was "so whose DSO did you use? whose ROM chips? whose EPROM burners? whose computer programmed them? Oh, sounds like a cool toy, we own it of course since you used all work hardware to make it."

    All I really wanted was to make a single copy of the dongle anyway for myself, but they had to go and be dicks about it so I just dropped it completely. Doubt it could have been a product anyway like the CEO thought.
  • Re:Say it isn't so (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stienman (51024) <adavis&ubasics,com> on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @10:18PM (#9874971) Homepage Journal
    Why is it a company can own my ideas...?

    When you are a salaried employee, in most states, then you do not 'clock in' and 'clock out' of work - you may be thinking about a work problem in the shower, and the company still benefits.

    This has the implication that any work you do within the scope of your job description, possibly within the scope of the employer's products or internal services, and possibly anything you think about at all, belongs to the company.

    This is what a salaried employee is in most states.

    I've talked to some people who work as consultants on the side in addition to full time employment. Most make certian their employer is aware of their side business. One provided a CD of all the generic code and libraries they'd developed over the years, and wrote on the contract that anything developed before employment did not belong to the company. It takes some time to go through this sort of process, and some employers may balk at it, but it may be the only way to overcome this 'problem'.

    -Adam
  • Re:Sadly, yes... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @10:55PM (#9875169) Homepage
    One word: Union.

    The longer IT workers go without one, without collective bargaining, the more this kind of stuff will pile up. Period.
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Tuesday August 03, 2004 @11:21PM (#9875345) Homepage
    Some things cannot be contracted away. The classic example is the right not to be owned, ie be a slave.

    This has not been strictly enforced over the years. For instance, Scientology's "Sea Org" (the navy/management/lifers) requires their services for this life and I believe a billion years of subsequent lives. I don't know how this contract'd be enforced, tho.

    I am getting a little more frightened about the rightward ho-ing of the judiciary. Being pro-business is one thing, but letting them own our thoughts?

    What happens when, sometime in the next 100 years, it will be technologically possible to monitor human thoughts? Will we be scanned at work to see if we are thinking anything worth owning? This is not reducing the concept to its absurd conclusion. I'm serious here.

    The right to be secure in our person and possessions should be extended to add security from intrusion of our own damned heads! Screw property rights. Our minds are the only thing they can't own - today - but brick by brick they are prepping a truly unbreakable prison.
  • 66% 33% 50% 75% 110% (Score:1, Interesting)

    by newpath4com (749315) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @12:29AM (#9875769) Homepage
    Looks like they could have given him a bonus, a partial royalty, on his idea. It took him a lifetime to get to where his idea was ready to spawn. An employer doesn't own your lifetime. Uh, Do they?
  • Shame on the poster (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @12:41AM (#9875838)
    Straight from the opinion background:

    "After Brown conceived the Solution, he sent a memorandum to his immediate supervisor on April 19, 1996 . . . Brown sent this memorandum in an effort to secure a release of the Solution from Alcatel, as required by the employee agreement See Footnote1. In response, Alcatel demanded Brown provide full disclosure of the Solution as required by the employment agreement. When Brown failed to cooperate, he was terminated. Alcatel filed suit soon thereafter."

    There are interesting legal issues here, but we cannot begin to discuss them without some honesty. Let's not turn this place into Kuro5hin!
  • by Grax (529699) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @12:57AM (#9875919) Homepage
    Personally I am in favor of the death penalty for corporations convicted of murder.

    It is possible to incorporate without a lawyer. All you need to do is fill out some paperwork and file it with the government. Whether or not you use a lawyer I would still recommend doing your homework so you know what you are getting into.

  • by quarkscat (697644) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @01:13AM (#9875996)
    where an employee's personal inventions are
    ALWAYS owned by the employee, NEVER by the
    employer.

    In the USA, the employer basically OWNS the
    employee (and any useful employee thoughts.)

    If I weren't such a dummy with the German
    language (written & spoken), I might have
    emigrated there long ago. Personal freedom
    in the USA is rapidly slipping away, especially
    with the "corporate national socialist" regime
    in power today.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @01:46AM (#9876126)
    If they're all guilty as you say, then why did they let so many of those "detainees" go, huh?

    But one thing I don't get about W, is that he was elected governor of Texas, but he's not even from there. He's from Connecticut. WTF?

    I guess it should be no surprise that he's supposedly the only president who's official bio on the white house website doesn't list his home state..
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @03:10AM (#9876505) Homepage Journal
    You probably also don't distinguish between the two meanings of "free" so controversial here on Slashdot - affordable vs. liberty. The capitalist abuses you mention are a long way in the past (at least on the timescale in my original post). But are they so far from returning in the future, as American labor's economic security falls prey to corporate gains and inefficient constraints on an open society? Many American colonists were happy with colonial economics: most of the Continental Congress were wealthy landowners, or made their living from them, and most of the colonists themselves were much richer than their recent English forebears. But when they organized the Continental Army for liberty, they gained both that new freedom, and new opportunities that they, and their free successors, developed into unprecedented wealth, their descendents generally even richer today than the monarchs that ruled them then.

    The precedent they set both shows the way to the perceptive, and dulls the minds of the complacent. But discarding monarchs doesn't require an American Revolutionary War. Canada turned the British monarchy into a vestigal curiosity, one which would be completely irrelevant if its global, postcolonial corporate incarnation were checked in power. Other nations have more recently had "bloodless revolutions", and most Eurasian countries shed their monarchies, and later tyrannies, bureaucratically. All had an American fighting revolution to inspire, as we do today, without following the precedent of gunfire, or even necessarily rapid change. We are more likely to find an evolution in our more complex world, rather than the revolution of armed rural colonists. That doesn't mean the seeds of that change aren't out there now, already living in a freer future that isn't yet widely distributed. I would join them if I could.
  • BS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by beakburke (550627) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @03:41AM (#9876628) Homepage
    The warnings went on the pack in the mid 60s in the US. And it was well known before then smoking wasn't good for you. If you don't believe that, ask any WWII aged vet. Even then they knew cigs weren't particularly healthy, but when you might be about to die in a war zone, they were a small comfort.
  • Re:Say it isn't so (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @06:27AM (#9877199)
    If the company won't let you review it with your lawyer, this in and of itself will likely make the contract un-enforceabe - or at least much less enforceable. Of course, you will have to convince a jury of this, but the point remains, if they won't permit you to understand the contract, it isn't valid.

    My last employer with a contract like that explicitly told me to go away with it, and come back in a few days, and strongly encouraged me to have a lawyer look at it.

    If a company has even the slightest hesitation in you taking time and having a lawyer look at an agreement, their attorney was incompetatnt.
  • by WebCrapper (667046) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @06:46AM (#9877266)
    I created my own S-Corp by doing this. Was pretty harmless and after a few fees later, I have my own company, and extra Tax ID. Granted, just like a regular person, I have to file taxes for the corp, but I'm legally protected off of anything that comes out of it.
  • by benzapp (464105) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @07:28AM (#9877430)
    On the lack of noble manners. - Soldiers and leaders still have far better relationships with each other than workers and employers. So far at least, culture that rests on a military basis still towers above all so-called industrial culture: the latter in its present shape is altogether the most vulgar form of existence that has yet exisxted. Here one is at the mercy of brute need; one wants to live and has to sell oneself, but one despises those who exploit this need and buy the worker. Oddly, suibmission to powerful, frightening, even terrible persons, like tyrants and generals, is not experienced as nearly so painful as is the submission to unknown and uninteresting persons, which is what all the luminaries of industry are. What the workers see in the employer is usualy only a cunning, bloodsucking dog of a man who speculates on all misery; and the employer's name, shape, manner, and reputation are a mater of complete indifference to them. The manufacterers and entrepreneuers of business probably have been too deficient so far in all those forms and signs of a higher race that alone makes a person interesting. If the nobility of birth showed in their eyes and gestures, there might not be any socialism of the masses. For at bottom, the masses are wiling to submit to slavery of any kind, if only the higherups constantly legitimize themselves as higher, as born to commad - by having noble manners. The most common man feels that nobility cannot be improvised and that one has to honor in it the fruit of long periods of time. But the lack of higher manners and the notorious vulgarity of the manufacturers with their ruddy, fat hands give him the idea that it is only accident and luck that has elevated one person above another. Well then, he reasons: let us try accident and luck! Let us throw the dice! And thus socialism is born.
  • As a matter of trust (Score:4, Interesting)

    by maximilln (654768) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @10:08AM (#9878547) Homepage Journal
    Many centuries ago employee agreements were not a problem. There was a natural feedback loop in the freedom of man to live indigenously. There were abundant natural resources which could be acquired through work and devotion.

    Society has evolved long past that. There is almost no free land anywhere. There are almost no free resources. Even if there were there is no free transportation to get there from here. In today's world a person must prove their usefulness to a company in order to earn the commonly accepted form of currency which they trade for the basic necessities of life.

    At the time of the industrial revolution there was little need for an employee agreement. The common shop workers weren't paid enough to have the opportunity to strike out on their own and set up a competing business. Shop managers were typically compensated fairly enough but still had little possibility of putting together the type of funding that it would take to make use of their knowledge to create a competing business. Those who were wealthy enough to be able to make use of their knowledge were also compensated well enough to keep them from having any desire to compete. In many cases this simple business approach still applies today.

    Why, then, has there been an evolution of employee agreements. As industry has become more powerful politically it has grown less efficient. In some instances the business bloat was so great that an enterprising employee was able to use what they learned on the job, working within an oppressive and stagnant atmosphere, and set up a company built on a "better way". Enter the need for an employee agreement.

    Still, though, there are still environments where the _goal_ is to create employees who can use what they've learned and strike out on their own. These are most commonly seen in skilled trades: the path from apprentice, to journeyman, to master craftsman. The very existence of skilled trades exemplifies that an industry can function, often fruitfully, without the need for employee agreements.

    What then is the real need for an employee agreement? It is greed and preservations of social divisions. Many trolls will abuse posters with,"If you don't like it then leave and start your own business." In truth many people in society have. But what of those of us who cannot start our own business because we're not financially priveleged? For the most part we're ridiculed and dismissed. Now what of those of us who cannot start our own business because it would be a contractual violation of a former employee agreement? Certainly this hasn't stopped people from leaving a bad employer to start their own business. What the employee agreement does is ensure that anyone who does start their own business does so with the blessing of the established players in the field. It is a system of nepotism that preserves power in the hands of those who already hold it. Any real competitors would be sued out of existence by a former employer long before they could get any real business started.

    Apparently Evan Brown tried to start his own business without the blessing of his employer. The real question here is: why wasn't the employer able to retain Mr. Brown? Could they not give him a raise or enough vacation to make him happy or is it that his management was composed of such intolerable selfishness that Mr. Brown did what any sane human would do?

    Employee agreements are a company's way of taking away the last chip that we, as intellectual workers, have: the ability to pack up and leave if the system has become intolerable. Anyone who is a proponent of these agreements is A) naive, B) pampered, C) blind. If the court had sided with Mr. Brown it would have sent a clear message to corporations: treat your employees fairly.
  • Judgement Summary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ekoffler (621208) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @10:25AM (#9878687)

    Well after reading the court's judgement the following paragraph seems to say a lot.

    Brown also claims Alcatel was not in the business of designing software, but was in the telecommunications business. Thus, the employment agreement is not applicable to the Solution. However, the evidence in the record establishes that Brown managed the group at Alcatel charged with maintaining and developing automated conversion tools for converting high-level code to low- level code. The record further shows that one of Brown's job functions was to manually convert Alcatel's existing low-level code to high-level code. The evidence shows Alcatel twice investigated automated conversion tools in 1993 and 1995. In addition, in 1993, Brown managed the employee charged with investigating the low-level to high-level automated code conversion process and received a status report on his research on October 18, 1993.
    We do not believe the court below erred in concluding Alcatel, pursuant to the employment agreement, "owns full legal right, title and interest to the process and/or method" that is known as the Solution. We overrule Brown's first issue in its entirety.

    So it seems he did create something related to work and not just a game or php code during his off-time.

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