Balanced Employee IP Agreement (BEIPA)
BEIPA takes a balanced approach to assigning control of intellectual property (IP) created by an employee. The employee maintains control unless they created the IP in their employee capacity and the IP relates to an existing or prospective company product or service, or was developed for use by the company, or was developed or promoted with existing company IP or with the company's endorsement. A company using BEIPA doesn't try to claim control of an employee's free time knowledge production, nor does it try to extend company control past the period of employment. Think of BEIPA as a commitment to employee autonomy and "work-life balance" – for the mind.
BEIPA was started as a reusable version of GitHub's employee IP agreement. Your company can use BEIPA too, and modify it as needed. If you'd like to help improve BEIPA for everyone, file an issue or make a pull request. While aiming to maintain the same "balanced" policy, we're keen to see feedback and suggestions for improving BEIPA and associated documentation. Please read our contributing guidelines and instructions.
Contributors to this project are not your lawyers and nothing in this repository is legal advice. See extended disclaimer below.
PDF, ODT, and DOCX copies of BEIPA are available for download.
Why are employee IP agreements deemed necessary by employers?
In the United States, without an express agreement employers usually own works subject to copyright and have either ownership or a "shop right" to use inventions. With an express agreement, employers can obtain lower risk, more certainty, and more control over more IP in more situations – so it's easy to understand that robust IP agreements with employees (and contractors) are necessary. But it's possible for IP agreements to go too far...
How does BEIPA differ from other employee IP agreements?
Many employee IP agreements are very generous – to employers. To the extent allowable by law, employers get control over everything employees create while employed, 24/7, over work created before their employment, and sometimes even to gain control over what former employees create through "non-compete" terms. For an overview, see The New Cognitive Property: Human Capital Law and the Reach of Intellectual Property.
BEIPA only claims control of what the employee creates during the period of employment, and only creations made for or relating to the company's business. There surely are many other approaches to relatively "balanced" employee IP policy. We encourage progressive companies and workers to share their agreements and lessons.
Why would an employer want to use BEIPA?
Your best employees are creative all of the time. BEIPA is good for recruitment, retention, and motivation – just like other practices and policies that authentically promote work-life balance and autonomy:
- Employees who feel they need to look over their shoulder and hide personal projects unrelated to the business are demotivated and set up for conflict.
- You don't want to push out employees who feel they need to leave in order to work on a personal project unrelated to the business.
- You don't want to keep employees who are staying only because they're uncertain whether they have the rights to leave and work on a project unrelated to the business full time.
- You want to encourage employee learning through creation and contributions to their communities (e.g., through open source), unhindered by need for employer permission.
- Controlling employee side projects unrelated to the business does not contribute to revenue or profit.
Why would an employee want to use BEIPA?
You don't want to have to look over your shoulder or hide, feel forced into staying or leaving, or discouraged from learning and contributing with free time projects, because the employer may be claiming to own your creations unrelated to your employer's business. You can know that your employer has made an authentic commitment to (at least) one aspect of work-life balance.
Why is BEIPA good for innovation? For society?
We know that societies and industries prosper when there is clear and fair (thus efficient and legitimate) property ownership and high labor autonomy and mobility. Employer control of all IP created by employees, even created during free time and not related to the business, sets up conflict, is perceived as unfair, and has employees and their ideas trapped. The effects of such control projected into the future (or not) has been well studied: the non-enforceability of non-compete agreements in California is one of the key advantages Silicon Valley has had over other regions, where employees have to wait years to strike out on their own.
Broad adoption of BEIPA should have similar beneficial effects for the communities and industries in which BEIPA is adopted.
What does BEIPA mean for open source?
BEIPA makes it clear that an employee can contribute to open source projects that aren't related to the employer's business, without needing employer permission. But BEIPA is not specific to open source: An employee can also work on an unrelated closed source project, and own it. BEIPA controls when an employer owns IP created during a period of employment, and when an employee does. Open source adds another dimension, permission to anyone to use a knowledge product (e.g., software), subject to at most very limited conditions concerning provenance and sharing.
The IP owner of a knowledge product can decide to release the product as open source, whether the owner is an employer or employee, but doesn't have to. So BEIPA is mostly orthogonal to open source, but it will probably result in somewhat more open source developed by employees, simply because it removes a barrier or uncertainty around doing so.
A different employee IP agreement could stipulate that all IP created by the employee will be released as open source. That's not what BEIPA does, but if you know of such an agreement used in the wild, we'd love to hear about it (and about other more esoteric employer/employee balanced or generous to the public employee IP agreements, perhaps involving joint ownership).
What does BEIPA mean for patents?
BEIPA covers all forms of IP. A BEIPA covered employee can file a patent on a project unrelated to the employer's business, and the employee would own it.
If employer and employee have particular patent objectives, they could be spelled out in a different or complementary IP agreement or other policy. One example of such an agreement is the Innovator's Patent Agreement from Twitter, a commitment from a company to its employees that the company will not use patents in offensive litigation without the permission of the inventors. Other pertinent policy choices include participation in anti-troll and non-aggression networks such as LOT and OIN, as well as contributing to open source projects.
In what jurisdictions is BEIPA applicable?
BEIPA was written for the United States. Feedback on making it more useful in any jurisdiction is most welcome.
Even within the United States, limits on employer ability to claim all employee-created IP vary. In California the main difference made by BEIPA is that IP developed with company equipment but that does not relate to the company's business, is not owned by the company. This recognizes that segregating one's life activities based on ownership of devices at hand imposes significant cognitive overhead and often doesn't happen in practice, whatever agreements state. In some states with less employee-friendly law, BEIPA makes a bigger difference relative to the maximum employer control allowable by law often baked into employee IP agreements.
See Exhibit A: Laws Concerning Employment Agreements and Intellectual Property Assignment for a collection of some laws regulating employee IP agreements. Some of these may be helpful information for or even required notifications to covered employees. Currently only U.S. state laws are included. Contributions to coverage of other jurisdictions are welcome.
Can I use BEIPA?
From an IP (copyright) perspective, the agreement is dedicated to the public domain (see license below), so the answer is yes. But please be reminded that it is offered without warranty (see disclaimer below).
How is BEIPA pronounced?
Think Beijing. Say Bay-pa.
What are some other relatively balanced approaches?
Defaults matter a lot, but clear and well-executed processes that allow employees to own personal projects or contribute to open source can also contribute significantly to balance. A Model IP/OSS Policy documents such processes in an employee IP agreement, based on practice at Rackspace. Google has publicly documented some of their processes for personal project ownership and releasing open source.
ContractPatch, information about negotiating employment agreements for open source developers.
GitHub, Inc. is not a law firm and does not offer legal advice. GitHub, Inc. and contributors to BEIPA offer no warranty of any kind and disclaim all forms of liability for BEIPA. Consult with your own attorney before using BEIPA.
Dedicated to the public domain under CC0-1.0 by GitHub, Inc. and contributors.
Note that CC0-1.0 does not grant any trademark permissions.