I'd like your opinion:

When the GIS Analyst leaves his job (not that I'm in this position, thank god), is he allowed legally to take with him odds and bits he collected or made during his work (small stuff like e.g. small VBA/Python scripts, examples of complex labels), or Like all his bigger Projects it is copyrighted and belongs to the hiring Company? I mean, it's clear that he can't take programs, layers and big stuff (or secret data for that matter), but what about the small non-specific odds and bits?

  • I changed "odds and bits" in the title to Intellectual Property. I wonder if this question could be rephrased more concisely by replacing odds and bits with "owned in whole but not in part". I've seen this phrase in contracts. Sep 2, 2010 at 15:02
  • One more reason to work with open source licences.
    – relet
    Sep 2, 2010 at 20:08

4 Answers 4


It depends on what the intellectual property policies are - usually they're pretty unambiguous - all the work done while in the employ of company "A" are the property of company "A", regardless of any copyright notices (or lack thereof) in the source files. No policies (probably) means that it's whatever state law says it might be, if it's even addressed clearly.

As seen in any number of larger lawsuits (the SCO suits come to mind), it'd be really hard to prove that someone walked off with a bunch of subroutines or scripts, and probably not worth it. It seems to me that most of these nigh-trivial items would be either easily duplicated from memory or would possibly even exist already in company "B", thus making a claim of serious harm done very difficult. I do know of some companies that have filed suit for these same items so in the past, so it not unheard of.

Oh, and IANAL, etc., etc., so none of this is worth the bits it's stored with. Personal experience and conjecture only.

  • From what I read out of the US copyright law it wasn't important that they did work for the organization, but that they were paid to do work for the organization because the person paying receives the copyright. I would just make sure to have records of payment for that service on hand should there be a problem with theft.
    – Dandy
    Sep 6, 2010 at 18:25

Herb's answer generally tracks with how I understand it. As an extension, anything developed by a consulting company for a customer belongs to the customer that funded the work so, in this case, the employee's work doesn't even really belong to the employer.

It is also true that this stuff is very hard to prove and is generally left alone but, if the company feels the long-term value is worth the near-term legal costs, they could pursue something. (See Intergraph/Bentley)

In the case of Jay's example of stuff that in your brain, that is basically correct but it gets muddier if the thing that's in your brain is a copyrighted/patented technique or piece of logic belonging to your previous employer. If you use that knowledge to reproduce something similar for someone else, then there could be liability.

Like Herb, IANAL. Years ago, when I worked for a big consulting firm, I had to sit through an internal training course on this stuff. It's load of fun!


  • 2
    I've seen a clause in contracts used by a company (won't mention their name, let's just say their initials are ESRI) specifying that the client would own all software developed "in whole but not in part". This allowed the contractor to re-use snippets from one project to the next. Sep 2, 2010 at 15:11
  • That's true. You can always put in language that waives your claim to IP. The government does that a lot with technology transfer programs that enable things developed for the gov't to be commercialized. That can be a good arrangement because the private company can try to sell it (also assume maintenance and upkeep), whereas the gov't can get out from under the lifecycle maintenance costs. Sep 4, 2010 at 10:41

One option is to ask questions on a site like this, then post the solutions as answers when you discover them. That way your “odds and bits” are then in the public domain.

Just don’t post anything that your boss is not happy with!


You could argue that if it is impossible for the hiring company to prove that the odds and bits was developed during the hire, how could it possibly be their property? I think the boundary between knowledge and physical code is very unclear on the odds and bits level.

Its like copying copyrighted material - no one will directly loose value, but indirectly they might. And again when it comes down to odds and bits, I wouldn't think of it as a loss for the hiring company.

But again, only my thoughts and I am looking forward to hear opposite reactions :)

  • 2
    I think this concept is termed "prior art". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prior_art Sep 2, 2010 at 15:06
  • 2
    I worked at one place that made me list, as part of the hiring process, any "odds and bits" I had developed prior to working for them. They had no claim on any item listed. Anything that wasn't on that list was assumed to be something you developed while working for them. The issue of whether or not you want to work for someone who gets into this kind of hair-splitting is another thing entirely. :) Sep 4, 2010 at 10:45
  • I keep all code, always have. I'd not work for someone who told me otherwise. Our industry, especially, has a lot of repetitive work, stuff that is very similar, and I advise all of my clients, that they benefit from work I have doen elsewhere. I also put my name in a copyright clause in all code. I am no huge fan of reinventing stuff.
    – Hairy
    Aug 8, 2011 at 10:57

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