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Microsoft is one of the best companies in this regard. They have a very clear moonlighting policy that the tl;dr is "anything after hours, made using 100% of your own resources, is yours".

That "100% your own resources" part is key, Microsoft provides a lot of free software. Employees working on their own projects have a "clean" setup that has never touched anything provided by Microsoft. Desktop/laptop, accessories, mobile phones, and so forth.

Heck Microsoft has on occasion promoted apps and tools made by its employees on their own time.

That other companies aren't like this confuses me.

There are rules against working on products that directly complete with existing Microsoft products, for obvious reasons, but aside from that, there aren't any real constraints.

(I've had plenty of friends at MS working on side projects that pulled in anywhere from hundreds to thousands a month, those projects tended to be written against MS technology stacks and made the MS Ecosystem better by their existence, why in the world wouldn't Microsoft want that to happen?)

Google sounds like it's the complete opposite. I've never seriously pursued a job with Google, and don't have first-hand knowledge of the actual policy, but everything I've seen suggests that it's a "Google owns everything you write unless you jump through some really big hoops" and it's been a big part of why I've never seriously thought about applying there.

This is sort of true. You can get copyright waivers for personal projects by filling out a form. They say most projects are approved but in my experience, it seems like they deny a lot of them. One of the two projects I submitted was denied. Other people I know have had a similar experience

It's actually basically the same policy, it just tends to get framed in a negative light instead of a positive light. "We own everything you produce unless you used no company resources" and "Everything you produce is yours unless you used company resources" are the same statement, but the former sounds way worse.

As far as I know there are two differences.

a) Google claims ownership of things you produced off-hours with no company resources if the work you were doing off-hours is your job. If you are for example a DL theorist, you are being paid in part for your general skill at coming up with DL theories, not just for the hours you put in at the office. If you come up with a new DL theory in the shower instead of at your desk, Google still owns it.

b) Google claims ownership of innovations made by employees off-hours with no company resources if the innovations in question were already being researched elsewhere at Google or the innovation was already known to Google. Like any sufficiently large technology company, Google has made patentable discoveries that it has elected not to patent so as to maintain them as internal trade secrets. This is to avoid the mess that would ensue if an employee independently came up with one of these discoveries and filed a patent for it and Google had to dispute the patent by demonstrating prior art and in the process revealing their trade secret.

So if you have a new innovation that was produced off-hours and without company resources, you first submit it to Google's legal office and they will let you know whether they (a) consider it part of your job or (b) were already aware of it, and if so they will claim ownership. If you disagree with their decision there's a third party arbitration process so that you can hash it out without risking the exposure of a trade secret.

Even worse, Google/Alphabet is in so many businesses, it’s probably very hard to do something outside those areas (and near impossible to refute a claim of “oh, another division is working on that”).

Indeed, the famous Windows Solitaire game was written by a then intern (Wes Cherry) in his spare time in 1988. He never got any money for it, but he was eventually hired for a paying position on the Excel team, so I guess it helped him in that sense.

Back in the 90s through early 00's when I worked at Microsoft, they had a strict no moonlighting policy. I think they ended it because this was given as a reason no one was writing any mobile phone software for windows phone.

How do they define “after hours” ?

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