As a developer at a large software company, am I entitled to the right to work on my own projects, independent of my employer? I am referring to work completed on unpaid time, using only my own resources, not competing with the employer, and using no software or intellectual property from the employer.

Is there a typical answer to this question?

1 Answer 1


At common law, your employer owns everything produced in the course of your employment. Your contract may give them more or less than this.

To protect yourself you need to be rigorous in documenting what you do for them vs what you do for you: how, when, what and where.

  • 1
    I'd also be interested in the answer to this question. But most developers I know are 'at-will' employees and don't operate under a 'contract' but rather, a company manual of sorts. Usually the company has employees sign these before employing them, but they often change them at will and sometimes change them without notifying current employees. Most of the time, they leave out the part about owning everything an employee does - and some states like California I believe explicitly mention this exact scenario. I see the OP mentions California.
    – mark b
    Apr 6, 2017 at 17:05
  • @markb While I'm curious about this situation in the country at large, my particular case is in California. Basically, I'm trying to figure out if I'm selling my soul while my contract is active, or if I have the capacity to, for example, start a startup in my spare time (unpaid and not on company property, of course), or whether that startup would revert to my employer Apr 6, 2017 at 17:32
  • @TheEnvironmentalist: I wouldn't make this an answer, and I'll try to keep it useful for others so it isn't chatted. But this exact situation came up in Texas; an employee for a well known corporation did exactly that in his spare time. Then went on to create a company with the software that dwarfed the one he worked for. The original company sent threats from lawyers but that is all. He then claimed that his wife was the one doing the work (she did some) and kept it out of court. Anecdotal at best. But nonetheless worked.
    – mark b
    Apr 6, 2017 at 20:53
  • Why? They pay you only for the time you spend at work. Apr 6, 2017 at 20:55
  • @TheEnvironmentalist: You might try reading on Alcatel vs Mondrus - but I believe they settled: eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1229626
    – mark b
    Apr 6, 2017 at 21:00

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