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Encouraging Innovation by CDOT Workers

Encouraging Innovation by CDOT Workers


  • Michael A. Mooney, Ph.D., P.E.
  • Cara Coad
  • Paul Brayford
  • Patrick MacCarthy, Ph.D.
  • Robert V. Rinehart, Ph.D., P.E.

Report No. CDOT-2011-14
Published: February 2012


Executive Summary

This report presents the findings from CDOT Study 98.20 “Encouraging Innovation by CDOT Workers.” In the course of their work, CDOT employees have been known to create devices that improve the safety, efficiency, and quality of their work. The purpose of this study was to identify recent devices that were created by CDOT employees and to document them. Ideas for encouraging innovation within CDOT were developed as was a process to gather device information in the future.

A survey requesting information about devices that were made by CDOT employees was created and circulated to the six Engineering Regions. Thirty-four submissions were received and reviewed. Employees that submitted information about devices were invited to attend an inventing and patenting workshop developed specifically as part of this project. The purpose of this workshop was to impart to the innovators a basic knowledge of the concepts and practical aspects of intellectual property (IP), patenting, and licensing. The inventing and patenting workshop provided a step-by-step approach to documenting and protecting ideas and inventions. At the workshop, the innovators were requested to fill out two additional questionnaires in order to gather information about patentability and the potential for widespread application of each device.

Four documents were developed for each submitted device:

  • Device Cost and Benefits
  • User Manual
  • Mechanical Drawing Package
  • Preliminary Patentability Assessment

The Device Costs and Benefits document provides information essential for deciding whether to replicate a device. The User Manual describes the installation and use of the device. The Mechanical Drawing Package is a set of part and assembly drawings required to replicate the device. The Preliminary Patentability Assessment presents the findings based on a prior art search regarding patentability addressing the three criteria: novelty, non-obviousness, and usefulness.

Over the course of the project, questions arose regarding ownership of the intellectual property associated with inventions. During the workshop a representative from the Attorney General’s office stated that CDOT does not have a contract with the employee for ownership of IP. Unless there is an agreement with CDOT, the employee has the right to pursue IP protection, e.g., patenting, copyright, on their own. If CDOT wants to pursue IP protection, they must negotiate arrangements and compensation with the employee. Promise of continued employment is not considered compensation. If the device (or other form of invention, such as software) was invented on CDOT time and/or with CDOT material then CDOT can claim “shop rights” meaning that CDOT can use the device (or other form of invention, such as software) without payment to the inventor. Even if CDOT claims shop rights to an invention, the inventor still retains the right to seek patent, copyright and/or trademark protection for the invention and also retains the right to market the invention to others. If the invention is developed on the employee’s own 7 time with employee’s own materials, CDOT cannot claim shop rights to the invention. The representative from the Attorney General’s office recommends that the employee hire a patent attorney if the employee would like to pursue IP protection.