Hackathons and intellectual property, who owns hackathon projects?

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Seen as more of a social event, developers attend hackathons in order to network with fellow programmers, engineers and others. Yet many participants and companies may not realize the repercussions of the intellectual property created during these marathon coding events, as recently discussed by Harvard Business Review.

Some hackathons are held internally, where only company employees can participate. But when the gatherings are more collaborative, the ownership of the innovation and intellectual property is unclear, which can lead to problems about unequal contributions and rights to the patent.

For this reason, some companies ban their employees from participating in external hackathons, despite the fact it seems overbearing and could be bad for talent recruiting.

Instead of limiting employees from participating in hackathons, companies should look into creating specific policies about attendance. For example, they can limit participation to projects that are likely unrelated to their current product line, thus avoiding conflicts of interest.

Hackathons allow developers to be creative and encourage innovation, which may lead to stronger products and smarter employees down the line. Rather than restricting developers from participating, companies should find ways to take advantage of these events.