Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's a Reasonable Assignment Provision?

Dear Rich: The other day you criticized a contract clause that a developer sent you because the clause claimed rights to the developer's own software tools. Can you give an example of a clause that wouldn't do that? We usually don't like it when someone responds to a question by saying "Good question." It seems gratuitous and a bit of a stalling tactic, doesn't it? It reminds us of our grandfather (left) who could hear okay but whenever you asked him a hard question, he made you repeat it so that he would have more time to answer.
Right, you had a question.  Flakasoft, one of our favorite app developers, responded to our recent work-for-hire entry and sent us a contract they had just received. It included the following provision.
Ownership of Inventions. To the extent that, in the course of providing the Services, Consultant jointly or solely conceives, develops, or reduces to practice any inventions, original works of authorship, developments, concepts, know-how, improvements or trade secrets, whether or not patentable or registrable under copyright or similar laws (collectively, “Company Inventions”), Consultant hereby assigns all rights, titles and interest to such Company Inventions to the Company. “Company Inventions” shall not include any software, owned or developed by, or licensed to Consultant, or methodologies, techniques, software libraries, tools, algorithms, materials, products, ideas, designs, and know-how (including all copies, enhancements, modifications, revisions, and derivative works of any of the foregoing) that existed prior to the date hereof or are acquired by Consultant from a third party thereafter or developed independently and outside the scope of this Agreement.
It's possible to draft a more specific or more favorable clause for protecting developer tools but this will give you a basic idea of what could work in terms of turf protection and fairness. And thanks for the good question!