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#978: Your Rights to Work You Created for Clients

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Over the past few years, during client assignments, I have developed what I think is a novel and powerful set of processes to provide client services. Is there any reason why I can't use these to write a book or sell to other clients?

In most cases, the work you create belongs to you. However, a more general rule is that work belongs to the person who paid for its development. For instance, any methodologies, research or ideas you create while on your own time and dime belong to you. If you are working for a public sector agency, your work products belong to the sponsoring agency and the public of the state or country whose tax dollars paid for it. If you are working for a private sector client, the disposition of the materials depends on the contract you signed.

Many consulting contracts contain a clause that relates to works for hire. It usually grants you a nonexclusive license to use the products developed at the client's expense but may have more or fewer restrictions. In some cases, you have no right to use your work (you should object to and avoid this kind of contract if possible). In other cases, you may be able to use materials with the client's permission. In the best case, you are free to use your material, even though it is a work for hire, as you see fit. Be sure to clarify this with your client.

Tip: If you believe you are developing intellectual property of potential value to you, discuss this with your clients and consulting colleagues before you begin work. This is particularly important if you jointly develop IP with colleagues because, even if the client releases you from any work for hire prohibition on use, you are still bound to obligations to your colleagues. Paragraph 12 of the IMC USA Code of Ethics deals specifically with this situation. It states, "I will respect the rights of consulting colleagues and consulting firms and will not use their proprietary information or methodologies without permission."

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  ethics  goodwill  intellectual property  knowledge assets  professionalism 

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