Your company's competitive edge lies in its intellectual property, but navigating the complexities of IP law can be a formidable task, especially when it comes to international jurisdictions.
When expanding your team or hiring in Poland, it’s essential to protect your company's inventions, designs, trademarks, copyrights, creative activities, and trade secrets from unauthorized claims or exploitation by others. However, safeguarding your intellectual property (IP) rights in Poland can be a daunting task, as they are regulated by both Polish law and European Union (EU) regulations. Neglecting to secure your company's IP rights and ownership can lead to costly legal disputes, a decrease in market share, and even damage to your brand reputation.
Read our primer for valuable insights on protecting your company's IP. Please note that while our guide aims to provide information, it isn’t intended to provide legal advice.
1. In Poland, NDAs are enforceable
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are legally binding contracts in Poland. While common, it’s important that they’re prepared correctly and provide the scope of protection you need. Here are some caveats to be aware of:
- NDAs need to meet legal requirements for being specific, reasonable, and not outside the public interest.
- Certain information can't be covered by an NDA. For example, a company can't make employees sign an NDA to stop them from exposing criminal activity by the company.
2. Polish employers have the right to obtain employee patents—unless an agreement states otherwise
Polish Industrial Property Law—which regulates industrial property rights—states that for inventions created by an employee or contractor, the employer has the right to obtain the patent, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise. To protect information the employee or contractor helps create during their employment or contract, an IP assignment agreement may be required.
There are different versions of these contracts in different jurisdictions. If executed correctly, IP assignment agreements are legally binding contracts that also protect confidentiality. Note that errors may cause the agreement to be declared invalid.
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3. IP assignment agreements can be legally enforced
Legal protection of your IP rights in Poland are covered by a myriad of regulations and treaties. Poland’s IP regulations are based on those of the EU. The Polish Patent Office regulates inventions and patent applications, trademarks, integrated circuits topographies, geographical indications, and industrial design. Copyright protection falls under the purview of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Poland is also a member of the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
While IP assignment agreements are enforceable in Poland, there are some types of IP that can affect the implementation/requirements of an assignment agreement.
- In Poland, copyright begins when the work is created—even if it is not complete. The author is granted moral rights (for example, the right to be identified as the author and the right to protect the integrity of the work) and economic rights (financial benefits). Moral rights cannot be assigned or transferred, while economic rights can, even to a third party. Moral rights can be limited by mutual agreement.
- In most cases, the employer assumes IP rights within the framework of an employment contract.
- The transfer of an author’s economic rights must be in writing for it to be legally binding.
- Material must be created under the author’s work obligations.
- The transfer of rights must be fully specified and include time frame (default is five years), geographic area, and the planned use of the IP including modifications. Termination conditions must be defined as well. Parties are free to define their own general rules.
- Copyright terms apply to the author’s work, scientific work, or computer programs.
For patent rights and industrial designs:
In Poland a patent serves as the legal protection for an invention, granting exclusive rights to either the creator or their employer, if created under contractual arrangements. The duration of the protection period can extend up to 20 years from the date of registration. In the case of industrial designs, the protection rights cover a period of 25 years. Poland follows EU directives regarding patent rights. This means:
- The patent can be filed by either party.
- The right to a patent is determined by the employment (or stand-alone) contact between the employer and the worker.
- The inventor is entitled to remuneration for use of the design. This can be included in a contract, otherwise it may be subject to a proportionality test that weighs criteria such as profits and employee contributions to the creation of the invention.
4. By default, contractors own the copyright to their work unless specified otherwise
Economic copyright refers to the financial benefit from the use of one’s work. In Poland, a written contract specifying the transfer of economic copyright is necessary. The contract must be in writing and cover usage. If the copyright is not transferred in this way, the contractor retains economic copyright.
5. You have to localize IP ownership clauses to Poland
Polish and EU IP laws are different from those in other countries, including the US. For example, international agreements protect most copyrighted works created in the US. But, because Poland doesn't employ the "work for hire" concept, in most cases intellectual property created in Poland is owned by the creator—unless there is a binding agreement (such as an employment contract that includes ownership provisions). Trademarks, designs, and patents need protection specific to Poland and the European Union.
6. Unlike in some countries, moral rights of an author cannot be transferred or waived
In Poland, creators of works are granted moral rights, which includes the right to preserve the integrity of their work and be acknowledged as its author. Moral rights cannot be transferred. However, these rights can be limited or partially waved by with a legally binding contract.
Frequently asked questions about IP law in Poland
Who owns IP in Poland: employee or employer?
In Poland, employees or contractors are the rights holders of the IP if no agreement covering rights exists. However a work contract or assignment of rights agreement normally transfers economic rights to the employer. Moral rights remain with the worker, though these can be limited in an agreement. The transfer of economic rights does not include related rights, like derivative rights (works derived from the original work), unless such rights are specified.
What is an IP assignment agreement?
An IP assignment agreement entails the transfer of an owner's rights, title, and interest in specific intellectual property rights. The party transferring the rights gives up their ownership of IP rights, such as patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and copyrights to the party receiving them. Poland follows European IP protection regulations regarding these areas of intellectual property.
Which Polish and EU agencies deal with IP?
These are some of the agencies that oversee IP in Poland:
- The Patent Office of the Republic of Poland: For matters regarding patent law and the protection of industrial property in Poland (located in Warsaw).
- The European Patent Office: For applying for patents across multiple EU member states (headquartered in Munich, Germany).
- Ministry of Culture and National Heritage: For copyright matters (located in Warsaw).
- European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO): For EU-wide trademark protection (located in Alicante, Spain).
Are IP regulations in Poland the same as in the US?
No. While there are general similarities—both countries are signatories to several World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and agreements—IP is protected differently in Poland. If you’re hiring contractors or employees in Poland, you need to protect your IP assets under Polish law. Some US copyrighted works are protected in Poland by international copyright agreements.
Can I protect my trademark in Poland?
You can apply to register your trademark at the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland. The application may be filed by a natural person (an individual) or a legal person (an entity such as a corporation) and all documentation must be in Polish. The process can take up to nine months to verify and approve the application. In addition, there is a three-month period for other parties to challenge the application. Upon approval, the trademark is protected from the filing date. Trademarks are approved for 10-year periods and can be renewed. It’s a good idea to retain a Polish law firm and use their local know-how to assist in trademark protection.
What’s the difference between an invention and a utility model?
An invention is new, innovative, and has the potential to be made or used in an industry. A patent grants the right to safeguard an invention to either the inventor or an assignee that holds the rights to the invention.
A utility model (also known as a minor or small patent) provides protection for improvements or adaptations of existing products. Utility models are usually utilized for advancements in mechanical technology. The principles governing the right to protection for a utility model are similar to those for an invention.
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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.