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    I would go one step further–I only grudgingly sign NDAs and assignments of invention too and would prefer if they weren’t there.

    This single issue is the thing that most makes me think we need collective bargaining and unions.

    Given the MO of modern companies, our ideas and skills are all that we have.

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      Yeah I don’t think i’d work anywhere that did Assignments of invention. I just don’t think I could be paid enough to make me give that up. I once signed a noncompete though but it wasn’t this restrictive, it only applied to business that were making the exact same kind of product (Laboratory information Management Systems).

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        When I joined my last company they had an assignment of invention section in their paperwork, but provided a place to list exemptions. I listed so many things on that form: github side projects to theoretical ideas I’d been kicking around. When I handed in the packet to HR they didn’t know how to handle the fact that I actually filled that stuff out. They ended up removing the assignment of invention section completely.

        I see a distinction between companies that prey on their employees and those that build in language and terms like this because legal told them to, or it’s “boilerplate”. Nether is acceptable and in many regions that take workers’ rights seriously they are explicitly illegal. I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon, though.

        If it’s important to you, don’t sign. If it’s important to you and your company is a bunch of idiots, change the contract before you sign it and watch them blindly put a signature on it. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up owning all their IP instead.

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          I can definitely understand why a company would want you to sign an assignment of invention and I don’t think they’re inherently good or bad. They’re just a trade off like anything else. If you really want to start your own company one day or side projects are really important to you than that’s something to consider strongly before signing an assignment of invention. Just like flexibility would be something to consider before taking a job if you really wanted to be able to take off work, with no advanced notice, to surf if the waves happen to be good and then make up those hours later.

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            Safety bars on looms and e-stops on lathes are a trade off like anything else…

            This is a local minima of error that companies are stuck in due to investors and lawyers (and greedy founders) trying to cover their own asses.

            It’s basically become industry standard, but seeing as how we’re all getting screwed in compensation (giving the growth we enable) compared to older days the bargain no longer makes sense. Further, the troubling trend is “Well, it’s probably no big deal to work on , just let us know and/or we don’t care anyways” is basically living with a gun to your head.

            If it is such a non-issue that most companies will overlook it, fucking leave it off the conditions of employment. If it is such an issue, compensate the engineers properly.

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              I think we need to create a list of businesses that do this so that I can avoid ever applying to them and also ones that don’t do this so that I can weigh applying for them.

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                Safety bars on looms and e-stops on lathes are a trade off like anything else…

                Apples and oranges. Those safety features don’t really affect the employer, but they have a huge effect on how safe the job is for all of the employees that use looms and lathes. Assignments of invention do have an effect on the employer and if you happen to be an employee without any aspirations of starting you own business then they don’t really affect you. Even if you do have that aspiration, a good company will be more than happy to stamp prior discovery paperwork to approve side projects that don’t have anything to do with the company’s area of business so an assignment of invention will only affect you if you want to compete with your employer.

                Edit:

                If it is such an issue, compensate the engineers properly.

                If you compare the software engineering salaries with those of other fields it appears that we are compensated for signing non-competes and assignments of invention. Nurses, for comparison, are also highly educated salaried workers but they make on average $20,000 less per year then software engineers [Source] [Source]. It is entirely possible that the gap in pay is a result of a high demand for and low supply of software engineers. But there is a high demand for and low supply of nurses as well.

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                  a good company

                  Where, where are these good companies? “Not all companies”, indeed!

                  There is no upside to for the employer to do this once they have the paperwork in hand, and relying on the charity/largess of a company is foolish–especially once belts start tightening. Even companies that aren’t terrible can often punt forever on this sort of thing because of limited time to devote to non-business issues, because legal’s job is to provide maximal cover and push back on anything that might create risk, etc.

                  I suggest that the overall tone of how employee engineers are viewed, for the good of all engineers, needs to change. Hell, most of the innovation people claim to care about so much would be strangled in the crib under the agreements that are common today!

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                    Assignments of invention do have an effect on the employer and if you happen to be an employee without any aspirations of starting you own business then they don’t really affect you.

                    And without any intention of ever contributing to open source, and without any intention of ever writing an article or a story or a book, and without any intention of ever painting a painting, and without any intention of ever singing a song, etc., etc. (Ever assignment of invention I’ve ever seen has covered any and all copywritable works, not just code. Most have tried to claim assignment of works created before employment began.)

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                      Ever assignment of invention I’ve ever seen has covered any and all copywritable works, not just code. Most have tried to claim assignment of works created before employment began.

                      That is an entirely different story. The assignments of invention that I’ve seen strictly pertain to ip related to the company’s products and services, during your period of employment with the company. Although they have all asked for a list of prior work as a practical means of proving that any such ip of yours was created before your time of employment. That said, my comments above were made with that understanding of what an assignment of invention is.

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                        “Related” is way too open-ended for my comfort. If I contribute to an open-source project at night that is written in the same language I use at work, is that related? What about if they’re both web applications? What if they both use the same framework? If I write healthcare software during the day and I want to write a novel where somebody goes to the doctor, is that related?

                        In the contracts I’ve been presented with it’s been explicit that any work done prior to employment with the company that is no on your list of prior inventions becomes the property of the company. I’ve been programming since I was 12; there is no conceivable way I can list every piece of code I’ve written in 20+ years (much less other forms of copywriteable expression).

                        I have hired lawyers on two occasions to review assignment-of-invention contracts with provisions like these and on both occasions the advice I got was that “related” is pretty much a blank check for the employer.

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                          The ones I’ve seen (and signed) have been restricted to inventions created at work or on company equipment, which amounts to roughly “we own the things we’re paying (or providing infrastructure for) you to create”. Within the context of capitalist employment, I think that’s essentially reasonable.

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                            The fuzzy bit is, when you’re a salaried worker who is remote, what exactly is “company equipment”? What is “at work”?

                            How many of us have, in an evening say, made a commit to wrap up a thought after dinner from our laptops or desktops?

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                              If you’re a salaried remote worker, the company should be providing your work machine, which is either a laptop you can take with you, or a desktop that you remote into. If you’re providing all the equipment out of pocket, why are you on salary, rather than working as a contractor?

                              The only exception I could think would be a very early stage startup, but in that case you’re probably coming from a place of having a better negotiating position anyway.

                              I’ve worked remotely for 3 jobs, and have always been provided a development machine, and have done my best to avoid doing anything that is strictly a side project on it for that reason.

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                                One of the selling points vendors of separation kernels pushed was separation of Personal and Work on one device (“BYOD”). They mainly pushed it under the illusion that it would provide security at reduced costs on consumer-grade devices. They also pushed it for GPL isolation to reduce IP risks to them. Your comment makes me think that can be flipped: use of dedicated, virtual work environment for (typical benefits here) with additional benefit of isolating I.P. considerations to what’s in the VM. If you want something generic, do it on your own time in your own VM just importing an instance of it into the work VM and/or its codebase. Anything created in the work VM they or you can assume will belong to them.

                                I’m ignoring how time is tracked for now. Far as clarity on intent of I.P. ownership, what do you think of that as basic approach? Spotting any big risks?

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                              I’ve never consulted a lawyer so I’ll concede to you on this. Thank you for posting about your experience!

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                          If safety equipment did not affect the employer, then why did it take so long for employers to adopt them? Why did they fight so hard against them?

                          And if it isn’t a big deal to a good company to make exceptions, why bother with the clause?

                          If developers are being fairly compensated for these burdens, why do we still hear about a shortage of devs?

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                            If safety equipment did not affect the employer, then why did it take so long for employers to adopt them? Why did they fight so hard against them?

                            The same reason anyone makes a fuss when you force them to do anything. People don’t like to be told what do to. Add to that the slow moving nature of large organizations and there is going to be a huge fight to get them to do absolutely anything.

                            And if it isn’t a big deal to a good company to make exceptions, why bother with the clause?

                            Because trusting every employee to be honest about signing over ip to anything they’re working on that is related to the company is not practical and it opens up the company to a huge amount of liability. If you don’t bother with the clause what happens if you inadvertently use your ip your day to day work, fail to notice, and fail to sign it over?

                            If developers are being fairly compensated for these burdens, why do we still hear about a shortage of devs?

                            Because there is a shortage. Paying more isn’t going to magically create more senior devs. It’ll increase the amount of people that get into the field (and it has) but there is still going to be a large lag time before they have the experience that employers are looking for. That said, if you compare the salaries of software developers to the salaries of other professions with shortages you’ll see that software developers make more. So we might not be compensated as much as you would like, but we are being compensated.

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                              It took so long to do it because it costs money to replace your lathes with ones with E-Stops. It has nothing to do with being told what to do or being slow. Corporations can actually do things quite quickly when there’s a financial incentive to do so. They struggle to do things which they have a financial disincentive to do. This is precisely why unions are necessary for a healthy relationship between corporations and employees.

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                                It has nothing to do with being told what to do or being slow.

                                It’s both. Companies regularly waste money on stuff that doesn’t benefit the company or refuse to switch to things with known benefits that are substantially different. These are both big problems in companies that aren’t small businesses. They’re also problems in small businesses, but often in different ways. Egos and/or ineptitude of people in charge are usually the source. On programming side, it’s why it took so much work to get most companies to adopt memory-safe languages even when performance or portability wasn’t a big deal in their use cases. Also, why many stayed on waterfall or stayed too long despite little evidence development worked well that way. It did work for managers’ egos feeling a sense of control, though.

                                Can’t forget these effects when assessing why things do or don’t happen. They’re pervasive.

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                                I don’t think a ‘company’ has any feelings at all. I think companies have incentives and that is it, full stop. The people within a company may have feelings, but I think it is amazing the extent that a person will suppress or distort their feelings for money or the chance at promotion.

                                I would be surprised if liability was what companies had in principally in mind about ip assignment. I suspect the main drivers are profitability and the treat of competition.

                                In terms of compensation, I don’t think anyone is saying programmers are poorly compensated. The question is whether non-competes and and sweeping ip assignments are worth it. Literally everyone who works is compensated, of course it is reasonable to dicker over the level of compensation and the tradeoffs involved in getting it. …

                                I think there is a tendency to feel that the existence of an explanation for a company’s behavior is sufficient justification for it’s actions. Because there is an explanation, or an incentive for a company to do a thing has little to no bearing on whether it is good or right for a company to do a thing. It has even less bearing on whether a thing is good from the perspective of a worker for the company.

                                If there is a shortage of software developers, and they are worth a lot of dollars, it is in the interest of software developers to collectively negotiate for the best possible treatment they can get from a company without killing the company. That could include pay, it could be defined benefits, it could be offices with doors on it, or all of the above and more.

                                There is a strong strain of ‘the temporarily embarrassed millionaire’ in programmer circles, though. It seems like many empathize with the owner class on the assumption that they are likely to enter the owner ranks, but I don’t see the numbers bearing that assumption out.

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                                  If there is a shortage of software developers, and they are worth a lot of dollars, it is in the interest of software developers to collectively negotiate for the best possible treatment they can get from a company without killing the company.

                                  And as you know, employers colluded to secretly and collectively depress labor wages and mobility among programmers in Silicon Valley (Google, Apple, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Intel, Intuit, eBay), on top of the intrinsic power and resource advantage employers have over employees, further underscoring the need for an IT union.

                                  https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/pixar-lucasfilm-apple-google-face-suit-285282 (2012)

                                  https://www.theverge.com/2013/7/13/4520356/pixar-and-lucasfilm-settle-lawsuit-over-silicon-valley-hiring

                                  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/24/apple-google-settle-antitrust-lawsuit-hiring-collusion

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                                    A very good reason for a union.

                                    Given a union, I wouldn’t necessarily even start with salary, so much as offices with doors and agreements around compensation for work outside of core hours, parental leave and other non-cash quality of life issues.

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                                    In terms of compensation, I don’t think anyone is saying programmers are poorly compensated. The question is whether non-competes and and sweeping ip assignments are worth it. Literally everyone who works is compensated, of course it is reasonable to dicker over the level of compensation and the tradeoffs involved in getting it. …

                                    Whether or not it is worth it is an individual decision. But at the end of the day we are compensated significantly more than our peers in other fields with shortages (accounting staff, nurses, teachers, etc). If you don’t believe that we’re being compensated enough, then what we really need to be doing is advocating for our peers in those other fields. Because if we’re not getting paid enough, they sure as hell aren’t getting paid anywhere close to enough. And if we improve the culture around valuing employees in general, that will translate into improvements for us as well. A rising tide raises all boats. But as it is, I don’t know anyone but programmers who think programmers are underpaid.

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                                      I’m all for paying people more, but I’m unclear why you are focusing on these other fields, I was under the impression we were talking about programmers and the IT field

                                      I also disagree that those fields constitute peers. Accountants may be the closes as white collared professionals, but they are in a field where everyone applies the same rules to the same data, which is an important difference. I’m all for labor solidarity, but I think it’s up for people in a given field to advocate for themselves. People elsewhere should lend support, sure

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                                        I also disagree that those fields constitute peers.

                                        They’re peers in that they’re fields with similar, if not more rigorous, educational requirements and they’re also experiencing labor shortages.

                                        Accountants may be the closes as white collared professionals, but they are in a field where everyone applies the same rules to the same data, which is an important difference.

                                        That doesn’t mean they provide any less value than programmers though. If you run a big business you absolutely need an accountant and a good accountant will more than pay for themselves. That said, given the pay gap, it’s unclear to me that programmers aren’t already getting compensated for signing non competes and assignments of invention. Especially when you consider how much lower the average compensation is for programmers in markets where non-competes and assignments of invention are not the norm [Source].

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                        I’d never sign an assignment of invention, I find the concept to be absurd, especially in an industry like software engineering.

                        I sign NDA’s without complaint when they’re not over-reaching. Many are sensible enough to abide by. But I once had an employer who attempted to make their workforce sign an NDA that imposed restrictions on use of USB sticks retroactively, with huge penalties - up to $10 million - in a company where USB sticks were routinely used to transfer documents and debug builds between on-site third party suppliers and employees of the company. Basically everybody would have been liable.

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                        As a French guy living in Germany, I’ve never seen a non-compete clause in my whole life. They are legal in both countries, but they’re highly regulated.

                        As far as I know the German law limits the period to 2 years, and forces the employer to pay at least 50% of the last salary during the non-competing period. And the french law says that there should be a limit of time and location given in the clause itself, and a compensation should be given during the period in question (the exact salary ratio depends on your job, but it can’t be less than 33%, most white collar jobs are around 75%)

                        Because most employer don’t want to throw money at former employees after they leave (except for big corporation CEO positions), I’ve never seen such clause.

                        When I read about these clauses in the US, I sometimes feel like it’s the wild west over there. Are these clause enforceable outside California? Are these clauses regulated (compensation, limit, …)? Or is that just legal fluff to scare off employees from leaving?

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                          Are these clause enforceable outside California?

                          Absolutely. And they’re not just limited to high paying jobs. The fast food sandwich chain Jimmy John’s makes their employees sign non-competes that keep them from leaving to work at other fast food establishments that sell sandwiches within a within a 3 mile radius [Source].

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                          At least in California non-competes are illegal.

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                            Not illegal – legally unenforceable.

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                              Which is why I happily sign any non-compete, and tell the HR folks (with a smile) “Ok, I’ll sign this, knowing that it’s not enforceable in this state.” The reactions I’ve had vary from friendly chuckles to long useless lectures.

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                                Good point!

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                                  It’s a little nitpicky, but it’s also important that if a Californian were to read this thread, and then be presented with a non-compete, that she should understand that there is no reason they can’t ask you to sign; they simply can’t hold you to the provisions of the agreement.

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                                    One can also understand then whether or not the employer is going to try to be dishonest or threatening by insisting on signing one.

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                                  Whenever I see that, I wonder how often people that try to resist that get fired or lose a reference for some other reason to cover up what the real reason is. I’ve seen a lot of that outside of non-competes. Happen much in California?

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                                    Sure, it’s still possible. My favorite is replying to a request for information with “sorry, we are legally obliged to not share that information.”

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                                An interesting one my wife ran into lately as she left an engineering director position is a non-solicit agreement. While this makes some sense from the employer wanting to be sure a severed employee doesn’t poach employees from them I always felt that it was daft because you should focus on making your company so great that it’d be really hard for an ex-employee to poach your talent.

                                This one was a bit weird though as she asked their legal counsel for clarification and he said that she would not be allowed to engage employees at the company period… whether they approached her on their own or even simply asked for a letter of recommendation for a new position.

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                                  A big danger with a non solicit is that it is more expensive to defend yourself again the charge that you solicited than it is to pay what your former employer is seeking.

                                  Never sign anything that has similiar characteristics.