The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020 - 15

Feature

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: What's Mine is Mine and What's Yours is Mine

Case History: A Laughing Matter
A few years before launching my own enterprise, I
interviewed with a small, agile aerospace company.
Suffice to say that this company was still run by the
engineer founder and was highly competent. They
specialized in solving problems that major aerospace
companies not only didn't know how to solve, but
sometimes weren't sure even had solutions. For
instance, one product line was microphones for rocket
nozzles (hint: you have to include a bend in the
monitoring passage so the heat flux doesn't melt the
microphone).
My new supervisor walked me through the
employment agreement, showing me certain
places where he had modified his own agreement.
He helped me strike through various things and
rewrite mine until it made sense for me. This was
certainly not the usual take-it-or-leave-it approach
(and the interview process is a story of its own), but
it illustrates why this particular company was able
to attract the best, and why employee loyalty was
extraordinarily high.
Because of the company's reputation for excellence,
we were a frequent target of recruiters. I received
my share of calls. The occasional engineers who
succumbed to their blandishments were often back
in about six weeks to ask if their old job was still
available, which served as an object lesson for the rest
of us. If the company hired someone accustomed to
the more pedestrian work demands elsewhere and
they did not adapt quickly enough, they would be
bounced within six weeks. You might suppose that
the reaction to this Darwinian approach might be "Oh
crap! I could be next', but staff morale was so high
that the general reaction was "Why did it take so long
to get rid of that clown?"
One afternoon I overheard another engineer answer
his telephone; "Hello?" (pause), "Yes." (pause), "No,
not really." (at this point you could sense a recruiter
pitch), (pause), "Tell you what. Hold on and I'll ask."
Then from his hallway you heard the loud question
for the rest of us: "Anybody here looking for a job?"
The answer the recruiter heard rolling back was...
collective laughter.

THE BRIDGE

Executive-level responsibility is
not about allowing individuals
or departments to dictate policy,
but about molding them into an
optimal working whole even at
the expense of discomfort and
grumbling among those who lack
the unifying vision. When corporate
executives default on their
responsibility to implement evenhanded, balanced policies more
suggestive of the constitutionalist
approach, the result is predictable.
ORIN E. LANEY

Discussion
A few years ago, the IEEE searched for examples
of employees whose employers had claimed
personal intellectual property, be it a hobby design,
an invention, software created at home, or anything
similar. The response was the sound of crickets.
IEEE members are at the forefront of technological
innovation, so the result does not suggest that
members are not intellectually prolific. Rather, it points
out that they are not naïve. When corporate attorneys
attempt to cast a net wide enough to capture
personal projects, they get nothing. The refusal to
participate has been termed a "Dilbert boycott". [2]
Employers are not better off for requiring overreaching
terms, but rather the poorer for attempting to do so.
During my career I have contributed many innovative,
creative solutions, at times resulting in capturing a
million dollars in business, at times avoiding a million
dollars of expense. This never resulted in bothering
corporate staff about a potential patent or trade secret.
There was little incentive to do so. My reward would
be distraction from the business at hand and a distant
possibility of some low dollar award that might not
amount to minimum wage for the time involved.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: What's Mine is Mine and What's Yours is Mine

Feature

Of course, there are occasional employers who have enlightened policies,
actively encourage submissions, and offer reasonable rewards for doing so.
For the rest of us, the norm is absence of active management and lack of
participation. The typical corporate IP collection system is moribund, comprising
a few lines in the employee handbook and someone officially tasked to handle
the paperwork who has to think hard to remember how it is done.
A maxim in systems engineering is that an optimal system is rarely attained
by optimizing components individually. It is important to balance the
performances of individual components lest one overdrive the next or operate
faster than can be compensated for by another. Lesser performance in specific
components can enhance the overall performance.
Here, excessive deferral to subject matter experts is not the same as actual
leadership. Executive-level responsibility is not about allowing individuals
or departments to dictate policy, but about molding them into an optimal
working whole even at the expense of discomfort and grumbling among
those who lack the unifying vision. When corporate executives default on their
responsibility to implement even-handed, balanced policies more suggestive of
the constitutionalist approach, the result is predictable.
My error in dealing with the big aerospace company was not waiting until
I had a written offer before asking to review the documents. Nevertheless,
I was still better off than those who quit an existing job, break a lease or sell
the house, move the family across the country, sign a lease or buy a another
house, enroll the kids in a new school, show up on the first day of work at their
new job, and then discover what is in the documents they are required to sign.
[3]
Only an active interest in employment terms by present and prospective
employees can remind employers that the bedrock of excellence is fairness.
References
[1] H
 istory Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070110/004225.shtm
[2] R
 onald E. Andermann, Employee Inventors, the Dual Ladder, and the Useful Arts:
From Thomas Paine to the "Dilbert Boycott", 1 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 310 (2002)
[3] Intellectual Property and the Employee Engineer,
https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8365164

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Contact information:
Orin E. Laney | PO Box 1746, Mountain View, CA 94042
olaney@gmail.com | 650-996-8423
Orin E. Laney is the owner of Atwood Research in Silicon
Valley. He earned a BSEE degree at the University of Maryland,
and an MSEE at San Jose State University, California. He is a
registered professional engineer in California and an iNARTE
certified electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) engineer. As a
former member and chair of the IEEE-USA Intellectual Property
Committee, he participated in activities that include amicus briefs,
advocacy of intellectual property legislation, community outreach
and education. Mr. Laney has presented on intellectual property
and career growth at more than 100 college campuses.

HKN.ORG

15


https://app.ieee.org/ https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070110/004225.shtm https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8365164 https://hkn.ieee.org/ https://hkn.ieee.org/

The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020

Contents
The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020 - Cover1
The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020 - Cover2
The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020 - Contents
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