December 12, 2017

The Government vs. General Alexander: Who Owns His Inventions

Since retiring as the director of the National Security Agency in March of this year, General Keith Alexander has co-founded a company, IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., that reportedly charges up to $1 million a month to assist companies in protecting their computer networks from hackers. Gen. Alexander has suggested that this fee is justified in part because his company’s technology is based on his inventions relating to a “unique” approach to detecting hackers. Alexander has stated that he plans to file at least nine patent applications relating to this technology. Certainly, Gen. Alexander can seek to leverage his NSA experience and expertise in developing a lucrative post-government career, however, the filing of the patent applications so soon after leaving government service and their cybersecurity subject raises serious questions about who actually owns these inventions and whether Gen. Alexander is seeking to profit from inventions that actually belong to the government. In interviews, Gen. Alexander has asserted that he discussed the ownership of these patent applications with lawyers at the NSA and has been assured that his inventions are not related to any work he did for the NSA, and, consequently, the inventions belong to him and not to the government. That NSA lawyers have purportedly concluded that his inventions are unrelated to his work is cold comfort in this era of Edward Snowden revelations.

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