I hear a lot about employers not paying employees for training. They want employees to pay and earn the skills for themselves, during their own time.

But, if companies do provide training, they tend to treat the knowledge and skills earned as an intellectual property of the company. According to that premise, if the company were to train an employee, the company is then giving away skills and knowledge.

And based on that premise, if an employee were to use those skills in another company, they are applying skills that once belonged to the previous company, without that previous employer's consent.

So, my question is, is knowledge an intellectual property? If so, are knowledge and skills that an employee received an intellectual property of a company?


There are two issues here that are getting conflated: the ethical problem, and the notion of "intellectual property."

Taking the latter first: "intellectual property" is a legal term of art, and most decidedly does not apply to "knowledge and skills earned by an employee". I do not know of any company that has ever claimed that it does, and would be shocked beyond belief if any judge upheld such an absurd notion. A company could claim, quite reasonably, that certain specific trade secrets remain the property of the employer after the termination of employment, and the terms of said employee's employment contract would doubtlessly contain a confidentiality clause to that effect.

So, my question is, is knowledge an intellectual property? If so, are knowledge and skills that an employee received an intellectual property of a company?

This is a legal, not a philosophical question, but the answers are: "Yes, under very limited circumstances", and "No, not generally" respectively.

Now, that being said, there is a proper philosophical question lurking beneath here, regarding the ethics of an employee receiving training at one job, and then leaving said employment and taking those skills elsewhere.

Here, the question comes down to a social contract (not a legal contract); employers do not expect employees to remain in the same company for life, and are perfectly aware that employees may leave to go elsewhere, and in doing so will gain the benefits of any training imparted during their employ. Very few employers would give this a second thought. However: if an employee were to leave immediately after training, before the employer had an opportunity to receive any of the benefits of that training, the employer would likely feel duped, as this would go against the implied social contract between the employer and the employee.

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Odd question! First no person owns any knowledge out right. Secondly humans are the only creature on the planet that retain knowledge past on from generation to genaeration person to person and retained expanded and shared socially. This is what we are doing here! I would imply that the person that has been trained or hired for thier ability to begin with, this would be a trade ageement i/e knowledge for pay. If the person agrees to be trained the knowledge is his. To make it ethical the company should enter into an agreement with the employee; anoghter trade agreement. They agree to use thier knowledge gained by being trained, "for the company" for an agreed amount of time after the training. This is what makes ethics work free trade; and not forced ownership of something that can't be owned, either the knowledge or the person.

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  • Orangutans and Chimps both obtain new knowledge and pass it between individuals and across generations. Probably there are other examples, but humans are not the only animals that engage in this behavior. – philosodad Jul 10 '12 at 19:35

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