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being an employee and a (potential) entrepreneur

Apologies to my loyal readers for the extended blog absence. What can I say – I was perhaps discouraged by the recent pronouncement in wired that blogging was dead – and that twitter is the Next Big Thing.

In any event, I was reading Dilbert this morning. As those who follow the strip know, there has been a running series about how Dilbert started his own business on his company’s time. (As an aside, it was called dilbertfiles.com and is actually a real site that Scott Adams set up for file sharing).

So today, Dilbert gets some bad news:

Dilbert.com

Funny, but true, unfortunately. One of the things that I admire about Dilbert is the way it conveys some simple truths, such as the one above, with a bit of humour. And it never ceases to amaze me that some entrepreneurs do continue to find themselves barfing in their box full of junk. To wit: The founders of MGA Entertainment – the company that was very successful in marketing a line of dolls called “Bratz”. Apparently, the person who came up with the concept and drawings for the Bratz dolls did so while still in the employ of Mattel. Because of that, Mattel claimed that it owned the rights to the Bratz concept. The court agreed, and gave ownership to Mattel, which then wasted no time in seeking (and obtaining) a court order that effectively shut down MGA’s Bratz business and handed the keys over to Mattel. The folks at MGA likely barfed in their box of junk to the tune of several hundred million dollars. Not good.

The fact of the matter is that if you are a budding entrepreneur who still has a job, unless you have a written agreement with your employer that you will personally retain ownership of certain IP that you come up with, then in all probability whatever you create in the course of your employment will in fact be the property of your employer. So think twice about creating that little side software project on your work computer. Or, for that matter, that really cool blog. Otherwise, you may find yourself handing it over when it’s worth quite a bit more.

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