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GPL vs LGPL vs Invention rights

Posted by michael_n on April 29, 2005 at 4:04 PM PDT

Well, as most the audience of java.net can probably attest, starting a new position w/ a new company is more akin to an initiation than orientation. (Also the cause for my recent blogio silence.) After the first week, I finally got the paperwork done to gain access to the forms I need to start the paperwork.

And, now, that old rush, that desire to excel, to exceed expectations, or at least make sure no one regrets hiring me -- is mixed in with the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions as I sign each form.... Obviously "direct deposit" is a nice thing (I can afford to eat again! I'll have health insurance again!); but, does anyone out there in developerland sort of wonder about the ramifications of that "invention rights" form? I'm sure there's a few people who have read the fine print, but not been in a position to really do anything about it. And, even though the (Open Source) licenses stay pretty much the same, the waivers are constantly being updated. For example, consider something in the spirit of:

...at any time during employment (or up to a year after), the employee hereby assigns to the Company all right, title and interest in all inventions, works, etc (incl but not limited to software, etc), authorships, improvements, discovered or conceived or assisted therein... (and the optional "related in any manner to the business" clause)...

The only two comforting thoughts that I have is (1) that I work mostly with GPL code, and (2) the projects aren't popular. Small comfort. I'd prefer to know. But, honestly, I'm no lawyer, and I already have a lot to do.... There are battles to choose, but then there are also the appropriate battlefields for them. David vs. Goliath is one thing, Ant vs. Magnifying Glass is another. (I'll make a note of donating to the FSF or something the next chance (er, paycheck) I get.)

Then again, if history is any indicator, after the flood of works ramps up, I might just be too busy to contribute to any open source (even my) projects: typically, that type of work gets done *between* employeers. But the "one year after" clause seems a bit excessive. Of course, I understand their (the company's) perspective. I just hope that: if the Open Source project is already established and GPL'd, and if it is not (in general) related to the company's work (depending on how "general" people define things), and if no spotlights are cast, (if, if, if) then I just hope all will work out.

On a somewhat related note, being the author of such said code perhaps produces personal positive opportunities (if a potential loss for the community: ie, jasperreports, /.discussion).
But, I also wonder if being the author of the code has negative potential consequences, considering that we (the authors) are signing these documents (and, please, responses like "well, if you don't want to sign the docs, don't work for the company" are at once true and ludicrous, and certainly unproductive; we all need to eat, and a fun job is sometimes only coincidentally found at a company that has overactive lawyers).
Perhaps, if the industry continues to be more open-source friendly (and, I think the industry is - perhaps realizing that it's getting a lot of functionality for free, not to mention free overtime from other companies' employees!) then I only hope that corporations either don't pursue these "invention rights" issues; or (much, much) better yet, make the "invention" agreements clearer (and more lenient) with respect to open source...

Signing off, with mixed feelings,
-Michael

ps: But, fyi, I am happy about the new job - no complaints, there. (Just in case they're listening...) Honestly. Happy camper. (...are they still there??)

Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with any current, previous or potential employers, and is entirely based upon perceived imagery in found wallpaper patterns (not at work).

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