Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


Pre-invention assignment provisions have become important and commonplace facets of employment agreements, supplanting common law rules for invention ownership. Yet statutes in seven states—including California, Washington, and Minnesota—restrict invention assignment. These statutes make agreements unenforceable when a worker invents on his or her own time without use of employer resources and the invention does not relate to the employer’s business or the employee’s work. Employers should be ready to argue why a given invention is not excluded from assignment by statute, although judicial decisions suggest many disputed inventions nonetheless belong to the employer. Statutory arguments notwithstanding, employee-inventors may challenge the validity of assignment agreements based on ambiguity in the contractual language. The defendant in a high-profile case over ownership of the Bratz line of fashion dolls, Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., prevailed on such an argument. This Article examines the limits on contractual pre-invention assignment, using the Mattel litigation as a case study.

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