Those who work in software industry will likely be familiar with very common rules, often referred to as “employee IP,” that outline who owns new intellectual property created by the employees of a business. This would seem obvious—any innovations created during work hours should be owned by the company—but these agreements can often go pretty far in the employer’s favor.

According to Github, many big software companies set up agreements where, “to the extent allowable by law, employers get control over everything employees create while employed, 24/7, over work created before their employment, and sometimes even to gain control over what former employees create through ‘non-compete’ terms.”

This has already created massive legal issues in Silicon Valley and beyond, such as the famous Alcatel vs. Evan Brown case, or, more recently, the big legal battle between Facebook and ZeniMax over Oculus Rift. Even the HBO show Silicon Valley devoted much of an entire season to outline the complexity and difficulty behind these agreements. The end result is that developers are afraid about the ownership of their personal code, and companies come off, at best, like bullies.

A new, more ‘balanced’ future?

Now, GitHub just released what they call the “Balanced Employee IP Agreement (BEIPA)” and put all the documentation online. Essentially, this agreement ensures that an employee maintains control of their IP unless they created it in their employee capacity and it relates to the employer’s product or services, or was developed explicitly for the employer to use. The employee also retains control unless the IP was developed for the employer to use, or was developed with existing employer IP.

In short: BEIPA only claims employer control of IP the employee creates during their employment, and only for IP directly related to the employer’s business. That leaves developers more free to work on their own passion projects without fear of losing control.

The idea is that this creates a more balanced work/life balance and puts more trust in employees that they aren’t unfairly leveraging work time/resources to work on personal projects. Let’s say an employee has an hour-long lunch break, which they normally use to go to some local restaurant. Now, they might choose to pack a lunch and take it at their desk while working on a personal project. Or, they could stay at the office for an extra hour, pull out their laptop, and not worry that their employer will later claim ownership of their personal project.

Why might software companies might want BEIPA?

This type of agreement might not work in every situation, or for every software company, but for the more progressive ones out there, it just might be worth a serious consideration.

For employers, GitHub points out that BEIPA could be a part of a larger recruitment, retention, and motivation effort from a software company. It helps promote both work/life balance and autonomy, and saves the employer from a number of headaches without making them any more vulnerable. Some other benefits include:

  • Employees won’t be as afraid of the consequences of working on personal projects.
  • Employees will be able to learn more by contributing to open source communities without having to get employer permission.
  • The employer won’t have to deal with the headache in controlling any personal projects not related to the core business.
  • Employees will recognize that their employer has made a big step to achieve better work/life balance.

We think it BEIPA could be a great first step in helping employees find a better work/life balance, which has always been at the core of our cultures and our values. We firmly believe that happy people make for happy employees, and would heartily recommend that all our customers put serious consideration

The great thing about GitHub’s efforts is that they’re creating a transparent, open source-esque community to make BEIPA better, and allow every company to adapt it to their particular needs. If it’s not quite right for you, change it and let the world know about it. That’s the great thing about technology—it’s immediately shareable, and immediately starts all new conversations about how to make the industry better for everyone.

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