Intellectual property at university

Intellectual property at universityIf you create or invent something at while at university, you might not have all the rights to it. Find out how university IP works.

Intellectual property: the basics

If you invent something as part of your university work, or with the help of university resources, the university might claim some of the rights to it. That doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from it, but your university will normally get part of any profits and will help to decide how to commercialize your invention.

For example, the patent for the technology behind Google isn’t owned by Google, but by the university where its founders invented it – which has earned the university $336 million.

Your university’s policy

Every university has a different policy on intellectual property, so make sure you check this. You should be able to find it on the university’s website. Here are a few things to look for:

What’s covered?

The simplest thing to check is which situations the policy covers. Your work will probably be covered if it’s done as part of a course, a research programme or a job with the university, or if you used university resources to create it.

If your invention isn’t covered, you might be able to sign it over to the university anyway. You might want to do this if you think the university will be better able to make money from it.

Different kinds of work might be treated differently

Not all kinds of work will be treated the same. For example, an invention you create during an engineering course is likely to be treated differently from a poem you write during a creative writing course. The university won’t normally claim rights to articles or books you write.

Undergraduates, postgraduates and staff might be treated differently

Some universities will treat undergraduate students, postgraduate students and university staff differently. For example, some university’s won’t claim rights to work done by undergraduates except in exceptional circumstances. Details of this should be explained in the policy doucment.

What will you get?

If the university does lay claim to your invention, it doesn’t mean you won’t get anything out of it. You might be offered:

  • The chance to develop your invention with the university’s help and support
  • The chance to assist with the development of your invention by the university or an outside company
  • A share in any profits from your invention
  • The option to license your invention back from the university for a fee

These terms will usually vary, so the specifics might not be available in the policy, but you should be able to get an idea of the possibilities.

The university might give up its rights

Many policies specify that the university will return the rights to the work to you if they decide not to commercialize it.

Other people might get involved

If the university gets sponsorship from other organizations, they might have a claim to the intellectual property from some of its research. This will probably be mentioned in the policy, but the specifics will depend on the particular sponsorship deal.

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