Policy on intellectual property ownership can vary widely between workplaces, particularly with academic employers. In most cases, the employment contract will indicate that the employee must assign the invention to the employer. While software agreements are the obvious intellectual property license agreements, intellectual property licenses arise in franchise agreements; entertainment such as movies, music and art; NFTs; and many other contexts. While companies own the intellectual property created by their employees, if it's part of their job to create it, it's not wise to leave the property to chance.
These agreements also require employees to disclose any inventions they claim to have invented before joining the company so that there will be no future disputes. The products of the human intellect that constitute the subject of intellectual property are often characterized as non-rival public goods. With this investment, it should come as no surprise that employers generally own the intellectual property created by their employees in the course of their employment. Intellectual property is generally the initial property of the person who thought of the concept or idea that is the object of intellectual property, although it can often be transferred or released through an agreement, transaction, law enforcement, or simply over time.
Intellectual property created during the course of an employee's employment does not amount to the employer's automatic and exclusive ownership of all intellectual property. The axis of an analysis of ownership is usually whether the idea was created in the course of employment. Similarly, it is not enough for the employee to claim the property simply because they used their personal equipment or conceived the idea at home. While in many cases an employer may end up owning the intellectual property created by an employee, there are some scenarios in which employees can claim compensation.
It's not enough for an employer to point to a paycheck and claim all of an employee's ideas. In general terms, intellectual property is any product of the human intellect that is protected by law from unauthorized use by third parties. Even if such an agreement is not in force, employee ownership cannot give rise to the exclusivity of the use or exploitation of that idea. Intellectual property law can be considered analogous to tangible property law in the sense that both consist of a set of rights conferred on the owner of the property.
As a first step in determining who owns the intellectual property, it's worth consulting your employment contract or independent contractor (or company policy) to clarify where the employer stands with respect to intellectual property ownership. Intellectual property comes in many forms, but for business owners, it's important to understand their rights as an employer versus their employees' intellectual property rights.