My main line of business at the moment is as an electronics consultant, and product developer. The whole issue of IP arises each time a contract is signed. IP is certainly one of those things that plays on people's minds the whole time - especially in a line of business where it forms a core asset.
I don't want to impose on what fairly belongs to a client, but I don't want any contract to limit my ability to carry on working. The whole issue is a question of how much the client owns when they get you to do something. Obviously any ideas and the end product belongs to them, but what about components of the final solution?
Sometimes you might find a brilliant solution to a part of a problem - can you reuse it elsewhere? Does the client paying for the solution of a problem, which is unrelated imply that they can own other IP developed by you as a consultant?
I think that it comes back to the issue of ideas (inputs) and solutions (outputs). An idea without an implementation is not really a real thing. That is even ingrained into our patent law - if you take to long to realise your patent, you lose the patent and someone else can apply for the same thing. The problem is that to the client, the idea is the IP, and they want entire ownership of anything related to that.
To me it seems dangerous to tie myself into a contract which limits me from using any components of a solution, which are not inherent to the particular solution in other ways - this is mainly an issue of me not being limited in my business.
It is like finding a balance is the same as trying to keep a see-saw level - the person who applies the most effort gets the advantage. I've started to add a clause to quotes that goes something along these lines,
I'd like to know what you think - this is a tricky problem, and seems to be difficult when approached from either side.The client fully owns all rights to the concepts and ideas as laid out in the client's specification. All rights for final solutions and implementations belong to the service provider. Upon final payment of all outstanding amounts the client has full rights to lifetime use of the IP in any way that they may deem fit.
So who should own the IP?