I'm starting to have my employees work on some pretty creative stuff and I'm wondering if I should be worried that they might claim some type of ownership of it later on. Is that a consideration in the US?
Do you have an employment agreement (signed by every employee) that fully and specifically provides that the employer owns IP created by an employee in the course of the employee's work duties? This is known as an "assignment-of-inventions" agreement and should be signed BEFORE the employee starts working.
Having them sign something now *may* protect you going forward, although an employee could always try to show that he/she started development before signing the agreement, so doesn't apply.
As always, IANAL, so take with a grain of salt and always seek legal advice from a licensed and experience practitioner. :)
This was basically the gist of the legal battle between the dad and son, that did that motorcycle show, wasn't it? Dad said it was his biz... Son who designed stuff, said he was entitled to a market value of "shares" when he left the business. But the shares were not real and technically he was just an employee. The courts eventually found in the son's favor. Never released how much he got though. But I think it was substantial.
Well... Not to turn this political, but things certainly were not always this way. I think it's just part of society now days, and the current trend in the courts and government... ie: The mentality of... 'Business people are bad'. So if you're one guy, and you're going up against a company/wealthy person... Guess who a jury will side with. Most of the public now days wants to 'stick it to the man'. And even many judges and politicians now, seem to have the same attitude. If you have money or a business, that means you're one of the bad guys. You probably notice all the lawyers on TV searching for people who were supposedly hurt by a drug... All of those stem from some jury ruling in favor of a person and setting a precedent. So bottom line, if you're a business that is perceived to have taken advantage of a 'little guy'... Good luck.
"I guess everyone here has a "work for hire" contract with each of their employees?"
We're an ad agency, I feel we have to do it, for our clients. Our clients, for example, pay us to write ads - I can never have an employee (or partner or any other entity) come back later and say they want "their" ads back, the ads were delivered to the client via the agency, the WFH establishes that the employees / workers do not own they work they are paid to create.