For a while I have had an idea for an open source project. Now, I've started building something similar at work as an internal tool (so not public). So does that mean I can not go on and do the personal open source project I had in mind at first? What are the regulations for that? I mean, obviously, I can and would never just copy paste code! But concepts and ideas can be the same in some places.

Can I start this open source project even though I am working on something similar at my workplace which is not open source?

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    We have to wonder whether you have any non-disclosure or other written i.p. agreement with your employer, and which jurisdiction's laws may apply. We can probably guess that you did not expressly exclude your idea from such coverage if any.
    – Upnorth
    Nov 26, 2017 at 19:27
  • Another answer to this question over here. law.stackexchange.com/questions/25780/…
    – LincolnMan
    Dec 2, 2018 at 2:05

1 Answer 1


As a programmer, what you can do in and out of work entirely depends on your employment contract and local laws.

For instance in my company, we encourage everyone to contribute to open source projects, including and preferably company-sponsored open source projects and this under the company copyright during work hours.

If I were you, I would read my contract in detail and discuss this my employer first. I would also consider ethical concerns.

In most cases, reusing confidential internal information to create a open source project is likely to be in contradiction with some confidential or trade secret terms of your employment, so it is best discussed first!

And even if you were legally allowed to do so, say your proprietary project is a now core commercial offering of your company: would you want to compete with the hand that feeds you with your personal open source project?

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    Thanks for your response. There is the usual Non-Disclosure about passwords and personal info and a very general one about "all not publicly known business affairs". I did some research and I think it is quite a gray area. Usually, this clause means you are a not allowed to release any business information, while technical and scientific knowledge must either be patented or be specifically stated in the contract. BUT, in the end, it can always go to court and they would have to decide on the specific circumstances and I don't think that's worth the risk.
    – user14529
    Nov 28, 2017 at 12:01

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