Derek Evans used to work for a small computer firm that specializes in
developing software for management tasks. Derek was a primary contributor in designing an
innovative software system for customer services. This software system is essentially the
"lifeblood" of the firm. The small computer firm never asked Derek to sign an
agreement that software designed during his employment there becomes the property of the
company. However, his new employer did.
Derek is now working for a much larger computer firm. Derek's job is in
the customer service area, and he spends most of his time on the telephone talking with
customers having systems problems. This requires him to cross reference large amounts of
information. It now occurs to him that by making a few minor alterations in the innovative
software system he helped design at the small computer firm the task of cross referencing
can be greatly simplified.
On Friday Derek decides he will come in early Monday morning to make
the adaptation. However, on Saturday evening he attends a party with two of his old
friends, you and Horace Jones. Since it has been some time since you have seen each other,
you spend some time discussing what you have been doing recently. Derek mentions his plan
to adapt the software system on Monday. Horace asks, "Isn't that unethical? That
system is really the property of your previous employer." "But," Derek
replies, "I'm just trying to make my work more efficient. I'm not selling the system
to anyone, or anything like that. It's just for my use -- and, after all, I did help
design it. Besides, it's not exactly the same system -- I've made a few changes."
What follows is a discussion among the three of you. What is your contribution?
Derek installs the software Monday morning. Soon everyone is impressed
with his efficiency. Others are asking about the "secret" of his success. Derek
begins to realize that the software system might well have company-wide adaptability. This
does not go unnoticed by his superiors. So, he is offered an opportunity to introduce the
system in other parts of the company.
Now Derek recalls the conversation at the party, and he begins to
wonder if Horace was right after all. He suggests that his previous employer be contacted
and that the more extended use of the software system be negotiated with the small
computer firm. This move is firmly resisted by his superiors, who insist that the software
system is now the property of the larger firm. Derek balks at the idea of going ahead
without talking with the smaller firm. If Derek doesn't want the new job, they reply,
someone else can be invited to do it; in any case, the adaptation will be made.
What should Derek do now?