The rapidly evolving professional landscape has blurred the lines between different legal specialties. One particular crossover that has emerged with increasing relevance is that between employment law and intellectual property (IP) law. At the center of this convergence is the role of the employment litigation lawyer, who finds themselves navigating a unique blend of both these areas of the law.

The very nature of employment involves an employee providing their services, often including creativity, innovation, and technical skill, to an employer in exchange for compensation. But as industries lean more into technology, innovation, and creation, the products of an employee’s labor often fall within the realm of intellectual property. It is in these overlapping areas where the need for an attorney with expertise in both employment and IP law becomes evident. Our friends at Cohen & Cohen explore their interplay below.

Ownership Disputes

One common intersection between employment and IP law is ownership disputes. When an employee creates an innovative product, software, or a unique method while employed at a company, questions arise about who owns the rights to this creation. Is it the employee, who was the mind and labor behind it, or the employer, who provided the resources and environment for such innovation?

In most circumstances, employment contracts preemptively address these issues, often stating that any creation during employment belongs to the employer. However, gray areas emerge when:

  • The employment contract lacks clarity on intellectual property rights.
  • The employee creates something outside of regular working hours.
  • There is a dispute about whether the creation was a part of the employee’s regular duties.

In such situations, an employment litigation lawyer with a nuanced understanding of IP law can be invaluable. They can help decipher contractual language, determine the context of the creation, and ensure that both parties’ rights are appropriately recognized.

Trade Secrets and Non-Compete Clauses

Employers often safeguard their proprietary processes, customer lists, or unique methodologies as trade secrets. Employees, especially those in strategic positions, are often privy to such confidential information. To protect these trade secrets, employers include non-compete clauses in employment contracts, preventing employees from joining competitors or starting a similar business for a certain duration and within a specified geographical range post-employment.

However, conflicts arise when:

  • The boundaries of the non-compete clause are too broad or ambiguous.
  • An employee feels their right to employment is unfairly restricted.
  • There is uncertainty over what constitutes a “trade secret.”

These disputes require the expertise of an employment litigation lawyer. They can help assess the validity and fairness of a non-compete clause, determine if an employee has unlawfully shared or used trade secrets, and navigate the legal implications if there is a breach.

Whistleblower Protections and IP Theft

Employees occasionally come across illicit activities in their workplaces, including the theft of intellectual property. Even though the law provides specific safeguards for whistleblowers, these brave individuals may still be subjected to retaliatory actions or even unjust dismissal. An employment litigation lawyer can stand as a pillar of support in these circumstances. They can guide whistleblowers, ensuring they are shielded against unjust employer actions, and unravel the intertwined legalities associated with accusations of IP theft.

How An Attorney Can Help

Amid the intricate weave of workplace dynamics and intellectual property rights, the role of the employment litigation lawyer is multifarious. Beyond acting as intermediaries aiming to settle disputes between employers and their staff, these lawyers also serve as enlighteners. They shed light on the rights and obligations of both parties involved. Their profound knowledge assists businesses in safeguarding their precious intellectual assets, while concurrently ensuring that every worker is accorded just and lawful treatment.

Even though at first glance, workplace norms and intellectual property might appear to be worlds apart, their convergence in the current work milieu is palpable. The employment litigation lawyer, skilled in juggling both spheres, emerges as a pivotal figure, guiding through the delicate balance of individual rights and the safeguarding of business innovations.

If you are facing an employment law or intellectual property dispute, it is important to speak with an experienced employment litigation lawyer who can help you protect your rights.