Most companies encourage their employees to innovate and come up with ways to improve the processes, products, and service of the business. Such improvements may be patentable inventions, and it is important for business owners to establish who owns that intellectual property and protect any IP that accrues to the company. In the absence of an explicit employment agreement, the ownership of such inventions can come into dispute, and our Joliet business attorneys discovered one such case in the Central District of Illinois federal court.
Shoup v. Shoup Manufacturing is a dispute between a company and its former president over the ownership of several patents. Ken Shoup, Plaintiff, was the president of Defendant Shoup Manufacturing for over twenty years, and during his time as president he conceived of several inventions that were patented on behalf of Defendant. Defendant used those patents and sold products based upon them. However, Plaintiff did not have an express or written employment contract that required assignment of the inventions to Defendant. Eventually, Plaintiff terminated his relationship with Defendant, began a similar business to compete with Defendant, and filed suit alleging patent infringement for Defendant’s continued use of his inventions. Plaintiff sought an injunction to prevent that continued use and monetary damages under 35 USC §271.
Defendant responded to Plaintiffs lawsuit by denying that Plaintiff owned the patents in question, and alleged that Plaintiff was obligated to assign the patents to Defendant, and that it had a valid license to the inventions. Defendant also filed a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff developed the patents using company resources while he was an employee and officer of Defendant, and that Defendant was the rightful owner of the patents. Defendant sought a compulsory written assignment of the patents and an accounting of Plaintiff’s unauthorized exploitation of them. Plaintiff then filed a motion for Judgment on the Pleadings to dismiss Defendant’s counterclaims.
Plaintiff argued that the Court had no jurisdiction over the claims because ownership of the patent was determined by Illinois State law. The Court agreed that it did not have original jurisdiction over the dispute, but because the counterclaims for ownership of the patents arose out of a common nucleus of operative facts regarding Plaintiff’s original patent infringement suit (which was a federal claim), supplemental jurisdiction was proper. The Court therefore denied Plaintiffs motion, finding Defendant had satisfied the requirements for supplemental jurisdiction under 28 USC §1367(a), and allowed the counterclaim to proceed.