I currently work within a call centre as a manager and I have a lot of admin work to complete.
During my own time, at home, on my own PC I started developing a system/tool via Excel that would allow people in call centres to easily manage their employees by automating 121 reviews, file notes, absence management, timekeeping management, probationary reviews, letters etc through this one system.
I have created this in my own time and not in company time but it got to the stage where the project was complete and I decided to sell the idea to other companies (the Excel file contains around 400,000 formulas - so you can see how long this has taken).
As I work within a call centre I have also brought this system to work, on a USB device, and I use it to help manage my team as a tool. I have never placed it on my work PC.
So after trying to see if I can get anywhere with this system I have now had my manager come to me as HR have contacted her. She was told to bring my attention to my contract section 32.2 which states the following:
"All work conducted by you as an employee of the Company belong to the Company and any copyright or intellectual property attaching to such work belongs to the Company and shall be governed by the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (or any amendment consolidation or re-enactment thereof) and the Patents Act 1977."
Surely this does not count as it is unrelated to my company?
Any advise would be greatly appreciated as I have a week before HR are meeting with my manager over this?
All is here: "All work conducted by you AS AN EMPLOYEE of the Company... "
You didn'd do your project as an employee but in your free time on your equipment. The only problem I see should be that you (maybe) had some benefit using your experience from the actual job but in general, the balance should be at your side.
The AS AN EMPLOYEE means that you really can't sell or hold the work you did for your employer or during your working hours or using the employers infrastructure.
Another remark: you should check if in your contract, there is not some "conflict of interest" clause (= protection for the employer in case that you misuse his know-how by selling it to the competitor etc.)
PS: the best thing you can do if it starts going harder is to consult a lawyer... To be sure you are well adviced but it can also "calm them down" a bit...
There are clearly some very different POVs on this one. @NewAlexandria would fire you, if the conditions for his #5 were occurring. While that is perhaps an extreme reaction, that answer does help to shed light on a particular POV, perhaps that you hadn't considered.
While it may be an option for your company to use bullying, threats and legal action to mitigate business risks and gain control of a possible asset, I would suggest that this would not be the best choice for them.
At the other extreme, you could immediately quit your job to focus solely on marketing your tool, and fighting off any legal challenges.
Perhaps a middle line would benefit both parties the most? If your project is to be a company asset, then surely developing and marketing it should be your responsibility, and you should be promoted and recompensed accordingly?
Alternatively, in exchange for approval from the company (a legally binding agreement) recognising your right to develop this tool in your own time, you could grant the company a free licence to use it.
You could stand to lose personal ownership of your idea, and be fired.The main reason why is that the product you invented is directly connected with the job your are employed to perform. If you invented a new kind of BBQ grill, you would be safe. This leads to a few things:
#5 is what I would fire you over.
Your employer likely now has every legal standing to claim the technology, fire you for malfeasance, or both (if they were those kind of mean people).
In most cases, since your employer does not sell this kind of IP, they would only claim a right-to-use.
Since HR has called a meeting in 1 week, either they are only taking the right time with their lawyers to build their case; or they are genuinely open to what could be going on. If the latter, your only safe routes are to avoid allowing any 'construction' of competitive practices to emerge in the discussion. You will likely have to give them the invention. Your rights to sell it outside the office are probably very little.
If you think you invented the next gold mine, and will be the livelihood of your future, you could quit before the meeting. This would make it difficult for them to gather evidence for a case (unless you've already told people about what you're doing).
Regardless, if they felt they had possibility of significant damages (loss of productivity by the removal of 'their' IP; increased competition), then they could get a subpoena to acquire the 'stolen' property. I would do this, if the risk management warranted it.
Their legal pursuit of you / the IP could damage your ability to do business. Actually, your reputation may already be damaged, if your HR found out because someone you solicited approached them (colleague communication).
Here is my recommendation. Stop using your application at work.
If your company insists that you hand over your code. Hand over buggy code. They can't use it without you anyways. With things like spreadsheets, since it really only makes sense in the eye of the creator, it's highly unlikely someone will fix the bugs. 9/10 the company will give up.
Continue working on your spreadsheet on your free time.
When you quit your current gig, and take the deep dive into entrepreneurship.
IANAL and you should consult one before going to far with this. Providing a location would also help us deliver better advice. The following is my thought on the situation.
I am afraid you may not have much too work with here. These contract clauses are to protect the IP of the company more than anything else, so the when and where of the work will not be much of a deciding factor. Here are the problems:
I would recommend that you do your best to work with the company to mend any possibly broken fences and see if you can use this application to demonstrate your value to the company. Maybe you will get a new position to help improve processes elsewhere in the company. A conciliatory posture is probably the best approach at this time.
Sorry to say but based on your description of your actions and the contract clause, I think you will end up getting the short end of the stick.