Who owns software program created by employee?

Court grants injunction forbidding employee from selling, copying or distributing a software program he designed

Courier Complete Inc. v. Fraidakis, 2005 CarswellOnt 1100 (Ont. S.C.J.)

An Ontario court has granted a company’s injunction request that an ex-employee be forbidden from selling, copying or distributing a software program he designed until a court decides who owns it.

For almost two years, Courier Complete Inc. had been trying to come up with a software program that would integrate the company’s software with those of major courier companies. It was successfully achieved by Chris Fraidakis, an employee who had never been assigned to work on the project.

In court it was not disputed that Fraidakis designed the program, that he did it while employed with the company and that he was able to create the program by using contacts within the company (and also with the company’s clients) to obtain information and codes not otherwise accessible to him.

Fraidakis admitted what his program facilitates is part of the company’s business, that he got the idea to write the program while working on a company project and that he knew of the program’s importance to the company. He claimed he wrote the program at home, on his own time, although the court found there was some evidence which cast doubt on that assertion. The only copy of the program existed on his home computer.

Fraidakis first claimed ownership of the software on Nov. 1, 2004, when he demanded a substantial bonus before he was to demonstrate it. The company said no and eventually the demonstration was done via a remote hook-up from his home.

Afterwards he met with three members of senior management. He agreed he had been “wrong” and said he would give the program to the company later that day. He did not return to work and days later when contacted by the company told them he had changed his mind and was gong to seek legal advice about the ownership of the copyright of the program.

Fraidakis’s employment at Courier Complete was terminated and the company filed a statement of claim against him. Two days before the motion was to be heard he obtained a certificate of registration of copyright to the program.

Under s. 13 of the federal Copyright Act, where the author of a work is employed by someone else and the work is done in the course of regular duties, then the employer is the first owner of the copyright. (The law is slightly different for authorship and ownership of a newspaper or magazine article.) As such the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled Courier Complete has a strong prima facie case for ownership of the software and ruled in favour of its injunction request. The company will likely suffer irreparable harm from a denial of the injunction, whereas Fraidakis is a talented programmer who could readily find employment until the matter is resolved, ruled the court.

The court condemned as “unprofessional” Fraidakis’s actions around the Nov. 1 demonstration of the software and after he was served the statement of claim. It had been a factor in assessing Fraidakis’s position and his credibility, it noted.

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