Updated November 3, 2020:

Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement

The standard Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement signed by an employee is a no-compete contract, that stipulates that no written or oral agreement has been or will be made, in conflict with the interests of an employer. The agreement also provides that an employee will not violate any company agreement with or the rights of any third party. Non-disclosure is also relevant to proprietary information and inventions associated with the intellectual property of the business, or any third party doing business with the company. Falling under the rule element of “restricted materials” or “confidential information”, employees may not retain or distribute any intellectual property of the employer unless authorized to do so in writing. The employee may not create or retain any material reflecting on the employer.

Proprietary information is qualified by intellectual property law as the rights and means to any copyright rights, patent rights, trademark rights, trade secret rights, mask work secret rights. sui generis database rights held by the company by way of registration, or by natural right. This includes copyright of creative materials assigned rights a mano (i.e. of the hand), without registration, by default. Initial copyright registration can be obtained from the United States Copyright Office (USCO).

Intellectual property rights and industrial property rights to the invention, including ideas, concepts, research and development, discovery, technology, software, firmware, trade secret, process, technique, data, device, design, circuit, layout, specification, apparatus, tool, mask work, algorithm, code, program, know-how, work of authorship, including documentation or material information associated with the tangible or intangible invention is solely owned by the proprietor (i.e. employer), and protected “universally” by registration or by default as intellectual property. While not all U.S. copyright, patent, or trademark is recognized in foreign jurisdictions, employers retain the right to any enhancements, improvements, or modifications of existing inventions not registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) under federal law.

The employer owns all right, interest, and title to all Inventions (i.e. Intellectual Property Rights therein or related thereto) that conceived, made, reduced to practice, in part or whole, innovated by the employee during the term of employment with the employer. This includes idea or invention that arises from the use of an employer’s facilities or assets and research performed under the direction of the employer.  The employee is held by agreement to disclose, provide and defend all “Assigned Inventions” to an employer, and to not use or disclose any Restricted Materials where the employee is not fully authorized.

Some proprietary information and inventions agreements extend to employer authorized use of an employee's name, likeness, or voice for the promotion of its products, services, and third-party contracts, business, and records involving affiliates and partners. Proprietary information does not include general knowledge held by an employee before employment with the employer; including business-related information that is documented and demonstrable. On termination from the company, Proprietary Information (including all copies) should be returned to the employer, with exception of personal employee copies of (a) compensation records, (b) generally distributed shareholder information, and (c) the Agreement.

In the case where the employee incorporates into the entity during the time of employment, Company property such as an invention owned by the employee-owner has rights to continued nonexclusive, irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide license royalties unless the agreement is subject to modification at the time of termination.

Standard Proprietary Information And Inventions Agreement for the employees and executives of a Delaware corporation: Restricted Activities.

The employee acknowledges and agrees to the condition that the employer's Proprietary Information is of the utmost value and secrecy, and that goodwill depends on discretion in performing duties associated with, or for the employer. The proprietary agreement also enforces limitations on the employee such as geographical area and scope of activity to be defined in the Section of Restricted activities. Employee duty to a reasonable standard of care is a rule element in the United States tort law and defines what can be expected of an obligated party working in a professional setting. Negligence or violation of a duty to a reasonable standard of care in discretionary obligation to an employer’s proprietary information is a liability and tortious grievance should the latter file a lawsuit against the employee for harm caused to the interests of that owner or company.

Violation or evidenced attempted violation of the agreements in the form of restricted activities is considered irreparable damage to the employer or its Affiliates and may result in litigation. Employee agreement to the terms and conditions of the employer’s right to retention of all intellectual property associated with the business, including proprietary information and invention rights, therefore agrees that the employer holds full entitlement. Remedies for damages in the form of injunctive relief is an agreement by the employee to the reinstatement of the full value of the intellectual property.

Standard Proprietary Information And Inventions Agreement for the employees and executives of a Delaware corporation: Employment at Will.

Employment “at-will” is a condition that provides the employee the right to resignation; and the employer the right to terminate an employee at any time; for any or no reason, and with or without cause. At-will employment agreements can only be subsequently modified by way of a written agreement. Mutual assent to modification is a term in contract law that requires that both parties expressly agree to the change of agreement, and must be signed off by the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Operating Officer, and the employee to terminate the employment contract early.

Standard Proprietary Information And Inventions Agreement for the employees and executives of a Delaware corporation: Survival.

The terms of survival provide the condition that an employee may agree to any modification of contract, duties, employment title, equity, or compensation after the signing of the initial employment agreement. Modification of terms to equity interest after the initial employment agreement, do not alter the other terms and conditions of employment. Other modifications of the contract may affect the validity or scope of actual employment, and therefore the original agreement.

Employer assignments agreement to continued obligations to restriction of proprietary information and invention are transparent legal documents, written to restrict the use of confidential records after the termination of employment. Termination may be voluntary or involuntary, and rules to proprietary information and invention protect the employer, regardless of the reason for the end of the contract. Employees maintain the right to share a copy of a signed agreement to future employers to state the employee's duty to a standard of reasonable care as bound by legal obligation.

Standard Proprietary Information And Inventions Agreement for the employees and executives of a Delaware corporation: Miscellaneous.

Any further details or disputes associated with the effect, meaning, or validity of the signed agreement must be modified per U.S. federal contract law. Some states outline additional provisions to proprietary information and invention agreements concerning employers. The USPTO provides extensive information on the rules for patent and trademark registration. Rights to the intellectual property of proprietary information and inventions are expressly stated in rules to registration. Those rules apply to employers and other holders of intellectual property, regardless of the company structure, team preparation, or independent idea.

Patent and trademark laws protect the rights of the registrant beyond the scope of employer agreement with employees and cover federal and international statutes relevant to proprietary information and inventions. The Madrid System allows for international registration of inventions. USPTO rules are consistent with intellectual property laws and protection from the failure of parties to actively enforce rights under the agreement. Such an act is not to be construed as a waiver of legal ownership rights. Nor can intellectual property owners with default protection of the law, be subject to the waiver of a right, remedies, or equity without their consent. Information about the Madrid Protocol and international patent and trademark registration can be obtained by visiting the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Standard Proprietary Information And Inventions Agreement for the employees and executives of a Delaware corporation: Effective Date.

Execution of a standard proprietary information and inventions agreement with an employee subsequent to working for the employer is effective on the date the employee commenced employment.

What Is an Invention Assignment Agreement?

An invention assignment agreement provides the employer-specific legal rights to inventions created or conceptualized by an employee during the term of employment. An invention assignment agreement also mandates that an employee involved in the conception, research, or development of an invention, must by law assist the employer in patent registration application on any inventions resulting from those efforts. Employees must execute all necessary documents required of the USPTO to apply for registration, litigation, or enforcement of any patent-holding under the ownership of the employer.

The invention assignment agreement may be included as part of the document required for eligibility for a patent through the USPTO. Patent examination may require that an employee list all inventions created while working for the company applicant. Assignment agreements generally outline provisions to dispute and payment of attorney and court costs resulting from litigation. Review “integration” clauses of an agreement between inventor parties for important conditions to financial and legal obligations to patent processing and protections, including filing and renewal fees. Terms and conditions to improvements to a new or existing invention patent undergoing USPTO approval may be present in an assignment agreement.

Limits on Invention Assignment Agreements

States differ in legislative limits on the extent that an employer can claim inventions assignment and employee agreement to give up rights to ownership and enrichment of patents. Employees can consult with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction where they are employed, to learn the limits to assent to contract prior to signatory. Invention assignment agreement may not valid, as some states like Washington, have recently eliminated the obligation to employers if the idea or invention is created entirely on the employee’s own time, and not derived from or using the employer’s intellectual property or resources.

Should You Sign an Assignment Agreement?

If employment is contingent on signing an invention assignment agreement, and the would-be employee person anticipates innovation in an area that will lead to the creation of a valuable invention during employment, legal counsel can assist in drafting contracts that protect an individual from rights infringement and ownership of original work. At will employers and employees can retain the right to terminate an employment agreement, and it is legal for an employer to modify a contract with an invention assignment agreement as a condition of employment post-hire.

Inquiries about proprietary information and inventions agreements in your state, post your legal need on the UpCounsel marketplace. UpCounsel lawyers represent the top 5 percent attorneys in the United States, graduating from top law schools such as Harvard Law School and Yale Law School. UpCounsel attorneys have an average of 14 years of legal experience and have represented corporate clients like Google and Menlo Ventures.