If I work as a building inspector and write code on the side, who owns?

Who owns the software I wrote that is used by my company? I'm in California. Nine years ago after having been laid off from my programming job, I started a new career. This job has nothing to do with software, IP or programming . I'm a teacher, inspector and basically a few more things mentioned in my contract none of which mention anything about software or code or IP. Nothing indicates that anything I might create on or off the job is owned by my employer. In my spare time, and sometimes during work hours, I write programs that make life easier for my company. They're trying to sell the company. Who is the owner?

Intellectual Property

asked Mar 24 '15 at 22:15
6 points

1 Answer


It depends on the paperwork you signed when you started the job (and since then), as well as the local laws. Many states, including California if I'm not mistaken, have specific provisions that prevent a company from owning unrelated things you do in your spare time. In those places, they can't "own your brain".

The place where this gets shadowy is when you say, "I write programs that make life easier for my company." This sounds like it's clearly related, despite your earlier comment of, "this job has nothing to do with software, IP, or programming."

If I were you, I'd start by re-reading the stuff you signed when you started working there. If you want to be sure, your best bet is to talk to HR and/or your supervisor. If you can, get them to sign some paperwork saying that any software development you do belongs entirely to you, and if they're using it, it's done so either with a paid license (they end up paying you extra for your moonlighting software work) or with a free license (they don't pay you, they can still keep using it, possibly including some or all updates you make, but it's wholly owned by you). If you can get it in writing, you're pretty safe.

One other thing I should mention is that it becomes far more complicated if you're using their computers or other equipment to do your work. If you want any hope of keeping it for yourself, always use your own computer, and your own software development tools. (Buy your own copy of Visual Studio, etc.) And don't do the work on site or on their time. If you violate any of those, then it is probably owned by them regardless of what else happens. Basically, just make as large and clean of a separation as you can.

answered Mar 29 '15 at 15:43
3,465 points
  • Thank you RB. Unfortunately, verbal promises were made to compensate me, but not kept. I am no longer employed with the company. I'm pretty sure I'm sunk, since part of the time development occurred in the cloud and definitely during business hours. Otherwise, the bulk of the software was written at my home with my Visual Studio. I guess what irks me is that I was hired for a position unrelated to software, took it upon myself to write software, and was never and will never be compensated. Thanks for your advice. – Speezy 4 years ago
  • Yeah, that's pretty painful. On the other hand, you could always restart, if you think what you made could be a useful product that you could sell. I'm sure there's a lot of things you'd do differently and better if you were starting over, having learned the lessons the hard way before. Starting fresh and without using any of "their" code, you could probably build a better product. Not sure that helps much, but it's one possibility. – rbwhitaker 4 years ago

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