The Right to One's Rights

on bucking versus capitulation

A friend is currently jumping through the Tandy Corporation pre-employment hoops in anticipation of being hired into the Radio Shack management program. He's a sharp guy with many personal projects in various states of progress, so I would have been remiss to not share with him my experience with Tandy strong-arm tactics.

Our conversation was faithfully captured for posterity by my IRC client's logging feature, so I figured I'd massage the text up a bit and share it here, too.

return with us now to yesteryear

During the mid 1980s I went to work for the Shack's local service center as a bench technician working on non-computer consumer goods: stereos, radios, TVs and such. Coincidentally enough, I was the only tech on staff who was licensed by the State of Connecticut to do such work.

During the course of securing employment, there was one document which I had refused to sign: the dreaded Intellectual Property Rights "agreement," or whatever the Shack called it at the time. It was in a bundle of things to read and sign, and I purposely failed to return that particular document to the service center manager. The reason was about as basic as could be. Though not a lawyer, I can read English, and signing the document would have bound me to turn in any and all patentable ideas to the corporation - regardless of when such ideas were generated or worked on.

For instance, were I to be at home on my own time and came up with a patentable idea and work on it, again, at home on my own time, according to the Shack's IP rights agreement, that idea was their property. That was clearly unacceptable to me.

deine papiere sind ungültig*

* your papers are not in order - for the Teutophobic out there

Having been on the job for a while and not heard anything else from the service center manager regarding the unsigned IP rights agreement, I figured it was something that fell between the cracks and had been forgotten about. That is, until one day I was called into the office.

The manager asked if I had the signed form. I replied that though I had the form, it wasn't signed because I had some issues with the wording. She said that everyone just signs the form, but would "talk to regional" to see if this would be a problem.

chess or flinch

A couple of days later I was again called into the office and informed that the regional service manager was not a happy camper. The shop manager went on to explain that the form was just a formality that mainly applied to the techs in computer service and didn't really apply to non-computer consumer goods techs.

That didn't convince me. Conversely, it disturbed me, because the words in her explanation clearly did not jibe with the wording of the document. Specifically, the words just a formality, mainly applied, and didn't really apply were triggering red flags popping up all over the place!

She then threw down the gauntlet by noting that continued employment by Tandy/Radio Shack was contingent on signing the IP rights agreement.

drop ten and punt

To difuse the situation I asked for some time to "run the document by my attorney." Her raised eyebrows clearly signalled she hadn't expected this request. The ploy worked, though, and she agreed to give me some time. "Lets get together after you've spoken with your lawyer" was how it was left.

procrastinate and ad-lib

About a week or so later the shop manager called me into the office.


She asked, "So what did your lawyer say about the IP agreement?"

I answered, "Well, he told me I'd be a fool to sign it. Not only that, but he also said he'd be more than happy to take the matter to court should that become necessary, as, in his words, 'there's no way Tandy could win this one.'"

This visibly rattled her and the only response was that she'd have to relay that information to the regional service manager.

And that was the last I ever heard from either the shop manager or the regional service manager about signing the company's IP rights agreement. I remained employed by the Shack for quite some time thereafter until I happened upon a greener pasture and tendered my resignation. The resignation and notice portion were both hesitantly accepted, which initially surprised me. I fulfilled my time commitment and then moved on.

the moral of the story

Why the Shack decided to not badger me further on the IP rights agreement remains a mystery. I know what I like to believe: that the Goliath corporation was brought to its knees by the demure David of an employee.

A more delusional thought would be that I had Tandy's corporate legal beagles by the balls, which while preposterous, was a delicious thought nevertheless. It was also a hilarious visual if taken out of the figurative sense!

More probable is that, litigious outcome aside, Tandy, the Shack, or some minion thereof believed in the credo of carefully choosing one's battles.

And in the 20/20 hindsight afforded by restrospect, I remain firm in my original conviction that I chose a battle worthy of fighting.

... your mileage may vary.

the zinger

Now for the best part of the story. It's short, sweet, and to the point.

I never consulted with an attorney.

This is where Paul Harvey would say, "And now you know the rest of the story!"