I was an intern in a small furniture company for over year where I had an idea to develop an integrated software solution that would help any company of the same type get organized. A verbal agreement was made that I could keep the IP rights to my code being free to sell it, and the company would have exclusive license to use/modify its copy. I developed the software mostly as an intern (1.5 years), and recently (5 months) as an employee (still no contract), heavily underpaid.
Recently the company has changed its attitude and asked me to sign a contract giving them 50% of the IP rights ownership. I didn't sign, I am now checking what my options are. My question is: Who owns the IP rights to the software if no contract was present? Intern or an employer? What are my options to legally claim my code and avoid any future disputes? If I leave the company tomorrow, can they sue me if I modify and sell the software for profit?
It was a big mistake on my part that I didn't ask for written agreement up front, I never thought this would become an issue since the company dealt with furniture, completely unrelated to software. What they are asking is not fair and shows how greedy they've become. Hopefully the law is on my side.
Your question is fairly fact intensive; you need a lawyer in your jurisdiction to answer it. This is a complex area of law and you have a complex fact pattern, so applying the law to determine ownership will be difficult. These are only a couple of guideposts:
It sounds to me, though, that they might not contest the oral agreement and acknowledge that you own the code, which is why they are asking you to sign the agreement giving them 50% of the rights. If you don't sign the agreement and leave, can they sue you? Well, just about anyone can sue anyone else... the issue is whether they will win. You'll need to retain and consult with a technology copyright lawyer in your jurisdiction to get a reliable assessment on that.
(The preceding information is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship between us)
If you are in the US, there is a very good chance that the copyright to the software is yours exclusively. In the US, in most cases the copyright defaults to the creator unless there is a employment agreement/contract in place that says otherwise. You really need to consult a lawyer though.