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As Rolodexes Go Online, Ownership Is Muddy

Publication Date: 
November 09, 2011
Daily Journal
. By Brian Sumers

Professor Mark Lemley spoke with Brian Sumers of the Daily Journal on whether a company can own an ex-employees social media connections if they were created while working for the company.

Not long after Brelyn Hammernick left a Minnesota technology recruiting firm for one of its competitors, she reached out to some of her old contacts using LinkedIn, the popular business-related social networking site.

Her motives were more than social, according to her former employer.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Hamernick's former company accused her and two others of violating noncompete and nonsolicitation agreements by using email and social media to contact former clients. TEKsystems, Inc. v. Hammernick CV-00819 (Minn., filed March 16, 2010).


"The real question is going to be: Is that connection something the company owns?" said Mark A. Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School and director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology. "Or is it the result of a personal decision made by the individual?"