General Rule: Ownership follows inventorship.
- Only the inventors or those who derive title from the inventors can own a patent or patent application;
- The inventors of an invention are the owners unless and until they transfer their interest to another.
Consequently, with regard to employees, the Inventor owns the patent rights in his invention unless:
1. The inventor is the employee of another; and
2. Express Agreement : The inventor signed an employment agreement assigning the rights to the invention to the employer; OR
3. Implied Agreement: The inventor was (a) specifically hired (even without a written agreement) to create the invention, or (b) hired for the inventor’s inventing skills in general (i.e. you were hired to be an inventor).
State laws govern such issues.
Also, if an employer does not acquire the rights to the invention of an employee who invents something during his employment, the employer would likely still have the limited right to use the invention without the inventor’s permission.
For government workers, many states have statutes that hold that the state automatically own inventions by state employees who invent something within the scope of their employment.