Who can own an idea? Who has the rights to an innovation or the results of creative efforts?
Intellectual property rights, industrial rights and copyrights pertain to the terms on which private individuals or companies can have ownership of “intangible things”, i.e. intellectual capital or the results of creative efforts.
When an artistic or literary work is created as a result of creative effort, the author of the work will automatically gain the copyright to it. The result of creative effort is considered to be a work if it is autonomous and original – the product of its author’s creative labour. A work of this kind can be a novel or other written representation, composition, play, film, photograph, artistic crafts product or a product of industrial art.
The copyright does not require application, registration or notification. It automatically belongs to the private individual who created the work. The copyright will remain valid for the author’s entire life span and 70 years thereafter. However, copyrights can be transferred to companies or communities upon agreement with the author(s). In the case of computer software, the law states that the copyright is directly granted to the employer.
The copyright bestows both financial and moral rights upon the author. Based on financial rights, the author can control the methods and circumstances of producing copies of the work and making them available to the public. The moral rights dictate that the work cannot be distorted or altered without the author’s permission, and that the author’s name must be stated when publishing the work.
The copyright protects the intellectual property of creative workers in that authors have the exclusive right to forbid others from using their works without their permission. Copyright holders typically utilise the right for profit by granting licences to produce copies of the work in exchange for compensation or royalties.
When a new invention, product, method, service innovation, design, product name or mark is generated through creative effort, the result can be protected by registering a trademark, business name, design right or by applying for a patent or utility model. The rights to be obtained are industrial rights that commercial operators can use to protect the results of their own product development against copying and imitation.
The most common industrial rights are patent, utility model, design right and trademark. If a company or private individual holds one of these industrial rights registered in Finland, the company or individual can forbid other Finnish entrepreneurs from using the protected creation for commercial purposes.
Who owns an invention?
The copyright protection does not apply to principles, methods, idea, information content or subjects or plots for works of art produced through creative effort.
If the result is a new device or method that can be interpreted as an invention, the inventor of the creative solution can apply for protection through industrial rights. An idea or a vision of a target state cannot be protected, which means that, in order to be eligible for patenting, an invention must be a concrete solution, product or method of reaching the intended goal.
If the invention has been created by a person in an employment relationship to an employer that can utilise the invention in its field (or the field of a company belonging to the group), the employer will gain the rights to the inventions of the employee, under certain terms. This is stipulated in the Act on the Right in Employee Inventions. Especially if the invention has been created as a result of an assigned work task, the employer gains the rights to the invention, irrespective of the field of the employing company.
If the invention is created in the service of a Finnish institution of higher education, the rights are allocated in accordance with the Act on the Right in Inventions Made at Higher Education Institutions. This act aims to promote the appropriate identification, protection and utilisation of inventions created at Finnish institutions of higher education in a way that is beneficial to the inventor and the operations of the institutions and society. The act defines who has the right to inventions that are created by persons in the employment of higher education institutions and which can be protected with a patent in Finland. The act also stipulates the grounds for the assignment of rights.