When it comes to intellectual property, what is a company’s “invention” and what is public domain/something everyone uses?

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When it comes to intellectual property, what is a company’s “invention” and what is public domain/something everyone uses?

I used to work for a company that had me sign a contract protecting their intellectual property. I have since opened my own company for the same market, and that previous company approached me to make sure I’m not violating the contract and using their methods. I am not.

Asked on May 10, 2013 under Business Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Obvously, if something is protected by a patent or copyright, it is the company's and you cannot use it. Otherwise, if it is confidential or proprietary information--like a list of customers; the ingredients or parts used in manufacturing something; a method or technique which is not in general use--and you only learned it as part of your employment, it belongs to them and  you cannot use it. On the other hand, if something is in general use or is generally known, you should be able to make use of it, subject only to the terms of whatever contract(s) you signed. If you specifically agreed to not use certain processes, information, techniques, contacts, etc., that agreement is enforceable.


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