Corporations have long held core aspects of legal personhood, such as rights to own and divest property and to sue and be sued. U.S. copyright law allows corporations to be authors while U.S. patent law does not allow them to be inventors. To be sure, both copyright law and patent law allow corporations to own copyrights and patents as assignees. But only copyright law, through its work-made-for-hire doctrine, provides for the nonnatural person of the corporation to “be” the author in an almost metaphysical sense. Under patent law, the natural-person inventors must always be listed in the patent documents, even if they pre-assigned the title to inventions they develop. This Symposium Essay traces the roots of this discrepancy and outlines the issues it presents in the balance between the rights of natural persons to obtain value from their creative works and the needs of corporations to direct and control the development, production, and distribution of intellectual-property-based goods and services. The Essay argues that Congress should amend both the Copyright Act and the Patent Act to provide in both a uniform work-made-for-hire rule that vests in the hiring party all ownership rights to patents and copyrights created in the scope of employment, while including an inalienable right of attribution for the natural-person creators.
Sean M. O'Connor, Hired to Invent vs. Work Made For Hire: Resolving the Inconsistency Among Rights of Corporate Personhood, Authorship, and Inventorship, 35 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1227 (2012).