Mixing Personal Computers with Company Software

As people who work at a tech company are well aware, the tech industry typically exists outside of the regular 9-5. When new ideas require developing or when a product is set to launch, employees can find themselves working at all hours of the day. They can also find themselves working away from the office, and intellectual property concerns may arise depending on what tools the employee is using to perform his or her work.

Employees may be using their own laptops to do work. Their computer is of course their own, but many install company software on their personal computers, blurring the line between business and personal. This has the potential for two problems: (1) company software is likely to be used for non-business purposes or even after an employee has left the company; and (2) ownership of the intellectual property may be called into question.

Regarding (1), companies should adopt clear policies regarding software usage. If your acceptable software usage policy is exceedingly complex, consider distilling it into a few bullet points, since employees are more likely to read and understand acceptable uses in this format. You may also be able to put restrictions on the software, requiring each installation to be licensed month-by-month, for example.

Regarding (2), ownership of intellectual property, a policy should also make it clear that work done using company software for company work is intellectual property that belongs to the company. Ownership disputes arise when an employee creates something using a mix of his or her own time and his or her own tools along with computer time and tools. Legal disputes are less likely if it is clear what the employee is only to use the software for.

Do you permit your employees to use personal computers or other tools to perform official work? What sort of agreements or acceptable use policies do you employ?

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