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The facts behind unhappy unpaid inventors

By David J Frenchsigning a document

A recent story published by the Ottawa Citizen on Nov. 7 tells of an individual named as an inventor on a patent for foaming alcohol hand rub who feels he has not received just treatment at the hands of his employer:

Engineer sues company he says pressured him to give up his rights to foaming hand sanitizer,” by Robert Bostelaar.

“Francisco Munoz, a chemical engineer who came to Canada from Mexico, is suing former employer Deb Brands, alleging the company unfairly pressured him to surrender his patent rights to foaming hand sanitizer.”

The story is essentially that of an employee who was asked to sign a piece of paper transferring to his employer rights in an invention for which he was a co-inventor. He signed as requested. Apparently, his employment was terminated shortly thereafter and six years later, with the invention having proved to be a substantial success, he is claiming that he has been taken advantage of and seeks compensation. But it’s more complicated than that.

Normally, in the absence of a written agreement, regular employees who make inventions own the rights to those inventions. They owe nothing to their employer unless, as a special case, they have been hired to invent. Engineers who are working in order to achieve a specific goal would normally fall into this latter category. The duty of such an employee hired-to-invent includes signing written confirmations of the employer’s ownership of any patent rights that he may generate.

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