Who owns the intellectual property created by a volunteer?

Who is a volunteer?

A volunteer is anyone who:

  • creates intellectual property for, or with you
  • is not your employee, or an independent contractor or consultant.

For example, a relative, a friend, or a neighbour whom you have made aware of your innovation may make an innovative suggestion, or you may work with them on your innovation, and they may make contributions to your innovation.

Another example is that your business may have provided an internship or work experience to someone who contributes to an innovation in your business.

What are volunteers' rights to intellectual property they create?

As the volunteer is not your employee, and you are not the volunteer's employer, the general rule that an employer owns the intellectual property created by an employee in the course of employment does not apply.

The position with a volunteer is similar to the position with an independent contractor or consultant.

An independent contractor or consultant owns the intellectual property that they create, unless other arrangements have been agreed.

If the person who engages an independent contractor or consultant seeks to own the intellectual property created in the course of the engagement, specific provisions in the engagement contract need to address this.

In the same way:

  • a volunteer owns the intellectual property that the volunteer creates
  • if you need to own the intellectual property created by the volunteer, you need to have the volunteer transfer ownership of it to you, in writing.

You should see a solicitor to do this for you.

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