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Microsoft Rewarding Employees Who Phone It In 280

theodp writes "For developers who are all about the Benjamins, Microsoft has come up with an intriguing alternative to Google's vaunted 20% time. To boost the number of Windows Phone 7 apps, Microsoft has relaxed a strict rule and will let employees moonlight and keep the resulting intellectual property and 70% of the revenue, as long as that second job is writing apps for WP7-based devices. The rule change offers an option for employees who don't want to leave for the insecurity of a start-up, but still want a shot at recognition and rewards for their own ideas."
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Microsoft Rewarding Employees Who Phone It In

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  • Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beaviz ( 314065 ) * on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:23AM (#35330504) Homepage Journal

    Microsoft has relaxed a strict rule and will let employees moonlight and keep the resulting intellectual property

    A company letting their employees do what the want in their own free time. They deserve the Nobel peace price!

    Seriously, is it common (in the states) to "own" your employees even when they are not at work?

  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oliverthered ( 187439 ) <oliverthered&hotmail,com> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:31AM (#35330574) Journal

    does that work for errors on tax returns?

  • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:46AM (#35330692)

    A company letting their employees do what the want in their own free time.

    You must have missed the "as long as that second job is writing apps for WP7-based devices" part. That is not "letting people do what they want". In fact, it places a fairly strict boundary.

  • by rainmouse ( 1784278 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:51AM (#35330724)

    >Microsoft then take a further 30% of this, $21, because I work for them... Leaving me with just $49


    When you work for a software company, the norm is to take complete ownership of any related software you create in your spare time, the idea is that so you cant just steal company secrets and sell them in the form of your own products. In practice its a way of completely owning their staff as though they were property (assets is the word they like to use), I have even seen contracts that stipulate ownership of the content of your dreams; however enforcing such dubious practices is another matter....

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:55AM (#35330748)

    If the company name was anything other than microsoft it would recieve nothing but praise.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by uganson ( 1173241 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:04PM (#35330802)

    The view of Joel Spolsky [] regarding the issue.


    Suppose you have a little game company. Instead of making software, you knock out three or four clever games every few months. You can't invent all the games yourself. So you go out and hire a game designer to invent games. You are going to pay the game designer $6,000 a month to invent new games. Those games will be clever and novel. They are patentable. It is important to you, as a company, to own the patents on the games.

    Your game designer works for a year and invents 7 games. At the end of the year, he sues you, claiming that he owns 4 of them, because those particular games were invented between 5pm and 9am, when he wasn't on duty.

    Ooops. That's not what you meant. You wanted to pay him for all the games that he invents, and you recognize that the actual process of invention for which you are paying for him may happen at any time... on weekdays, weekends, in the office, in the cubicle, at home, in the shower, climbing a mountain on vacation.

    So before you hire this guy, you agree, "hey listen, I know that inventing happens all the time, and it's impossible to prove whether you invented something while you were sitting in the chair I supplied in the cubicle I supplied or not. I don't just want to buy your 9-5 inventions. I want them all, and I'm going to pay you a nice salary to get them all," and he agrees to that, so now you want to sign something that says that all his inventions belong to the company as long as he is employed by the company.


  • Not really. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:30PM (#35330956) Journal

    If Apple announced this, world+dog would deride them for the app restriction, claiming long and loud how 'Lord Jobs' is keeping tight rein over the 'peasants' in his 'domain'.

    If RIM Announced this, world+dog would collectively yawn, save for some folks who would stand back in astonishment that the Blackberry actually had apps*

    If Google announced this, world+dog would think it was normal, and point to that 20% thing they have.


    Personally, I see it as Microsoft casting about to bolster its struggling product in any way that it can. They're having a pretty rough go of it, judging by the numbers so far. To give you an idea, I'm willing to wager that WP7 still has more phones in the channel than in customer hands... and there's very little prospect so far that WP 7 will do much more than eke out a presence this year, if they're lucky.

    * (they do have apps BTW - I have/use a BB Bold).

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:40PM (#35331020) Homepage Journal

    I think you're interpreting that too broadly. If they own the IP of the work you do for them, they own software you were ordered to create on company time. If they don't order it and you create it on your own time and it's different enough than what you're doing then it should be your property. But MSFT assumes if you do some software you got the idea from them, when in fact it could have been your own idea. They keep this water muddy intentionally, even if it appears to be spelled out properly. Watch what happens when someone codes something they want to launch... 70% of the profits? Yeah right. They would try to buy you out or create something that oversteps your prior art and merely bypass you. They have heavy feet.

  • by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:42PM (#35331034)

    For 20% of your company work time you can work on something still company related but of your choosing rather than dictated by your manager.


    You can work on stuff related to the company's product on your own personal time at your own cost and you bear all the risk, but the company will have 30% of the revenue. Oh, and we'll give you a slice of pizza once a week.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @01:10PM (#35331220) Journal
    This is yet another example of why programmers especially, but really all tech workers, would benefit from a union, but crony capitalist propaganda keeps people convinced that a union would lower their pay and benefits, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, workers get better pay and working conditions in a unionized environment.

    everyone likes to consider themselves better at everything, so they think they can negotiate better for their own pay, but really who will do better, one guy who needs to pay his mortgage next month vs. a company who can keep a position open as long as they need to, and just keep leaning on the other programmers to make up the slack, since THEY need to pay their mortgage too, they shut up and put in their 70-80 hour/week deathmarch.

    the reality of the situation is, even if you are in the top 10% of programmers, you are not going to also be in the top 10% of negotiators AND be in a position to hold out for as long as it takes to get compensation that is appropriate to the value you bring to the company.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Sunday February 27, 2011 @02:13PM (#35331698) Journal

    If they don't order it and you create it on your own time and it's different enough than what you're doing then it should be your property.

    That won't matter if the lawyers for the company you work for make it impossible for you to profit from "your property" or if the legal costs wipe out any possible profit.

    I think the intellectual property laws are as likely to hinder innovation than encourage it. That's usually the signal when a law needs to be repealed or changed. When when a law actually encourages lawless behavior, and results in rewarding criminal behavior, as in the drug laws, it's probably ripe for change or repeal. Considering that IP laws make criminals out of tens of millions of Americans and probably hundreds of millions of people worldwide, you have to wonder what benefit these laws provide in the first place.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lashat ( 1041424 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @02:29PM (#35331806)

    This is not an attempt by Microsoft to co-op and then take over Windows Phone 7 apps that their employees develop. Microsoft wants WP7 apps to be developed and get to the consumer thus promoting the WP7 os and devices. Everyone know that the combination of devices ability and available apps are going to decide the smartphone os wars.

    Usually, any MS employee would be hamstrung by the blanket IP policy, which is narrow enough that a novel would not be covered, but any Windows realated code would. The new policies rally the MS troops with deepest access to WP7 source with incentive to develop specifically for the platform. Also, worth a mention is the fact that app approval process will be greased by MS 30% interest. The resulting apps will have a much better chance of making it to the consumer.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Znork ( 31774 ) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @03:01PM (#35332042)

    The new policies rally the MS troops with deepest access to WP7 source with incentive to develop specifically for the platform.

    Ah, yes, the incentive of taking 30% of the profit the employee makes on his own time. What's next, encouraging employee stock ownership by only requiring 30% repayment to the company of any profits (excepted upper management of course)?

    The humorous part is that management probably thinks employees should be grateful for such incentive, while it will only serve to educate the employees that their contracts shaft them, reducing morale and certainly not creating a desire to work for free in their spare time.

    Microsoft seems more out of touch every year, and this certainly won't help windows mobile. Poor Nokia.

  • by Aquitaine ( 102097 ) <> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @03:58PM (#35332424) Homepage

    There are obviously shops out there that try to say that they own everything the employee does. In most places this is not legal and even if it is, you're an idiot to sign them.

    I run a shop that does youth sports management web applications. The only time I care about what my employees doing in their spare time is when it's directly relevant to their job. If you work for me and then you turn around and write your own youth sports application in your spare time, I'm going to sue your pants off because you have access to our code, our libraries, our ideas, and our clients' business needs and you can't pretend that you aren't using any of those things in your new and competing product.

    But if you write a game or a web app that clearly has got nothing to do with your job, such that the only tenuous connection I can establish between your work for us and your free time project is that you became a more competent programmer while working for us, that's awesome for you and good for us because it means you're improving yourself and making an extra buck. If you make so many extra bucks on the side that you quit your job, well that sucks for me, but you earned it.

    There are definitely some gray areas here. Like what if you start working in your spare time on an app that competes with us and then quit your job a month later? Then you get the 'hair salon migration rule' - if you took our stuff (even our abstract stuff) or solicit any of our clients to leave with you, then we go to court. But let's say you quit your job because you think the company sucks or that I'm a jerk and then a year later you start working on a competing product. Forget the law for a moment -- what does your gut tell you is the right answer here? For me, if you've been gone for a year, the only connection between what you're doing now with what you did for us a year ago is that you clearly learned a lot about the business from us, but unless you actually swiped any of our code, 'knowing how the business works' is not a crime. I don't want to police what you do after you stop working for us unless there's a very real concern that you've stolen our mojo.

    The analogy to what MS is doing also seems to be a little bit of a gray area. Our company makes niche software so there's not a huge sphere of relevant work out there. but if your job for MS is WM7 development, that's a bit different. It's tough for you to say that your free time WM7 development has got nothing to do with your professional WM7 development, and MS is basically saying that we'll compromise with you -- rather than having to figure out (probably in court) whether or not your work is yours, theirs, or a conflict of interest, they're just saying 'go do what you want, and if what you want happens to be similar to your day job, we'll sign off on it and let you keep most of the revenue.'

    From a business perspective, that seems pretty reasonable to me.

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