Many innovators start their entrepreneurial journey in college. Unlike faculty and graduate researchers, undergraduate and master’s students do not have a formal contractual relationship with their institution, which raises issues regarding ownership of student-produced intellectual property (IP).
Understanding Your School’s IP Policy
Most universities have IP policies that dictate ownership of work, sharing of profits, and third-party IP rights. Depending on the policy, student IP can belong to either the university or the student.
The final product is typically the student’s IP when students create work based on their knowledge acquired through lectures. Although some institutions require students to relinquish their IP rights for work created substantially within the school’s facilities, these students may still be able to share in earned profits.
On the contrary, students who conduct sponsored research typically lose their IP rights to the sponsor. Students who work alongside academic staff on a project should inquire into who will own the IP rights to the finished product.
Because the rights to intellectual property created in a university setting are usually fact-based, student entrepreneurs should research their own institution’s IP policy to learn how it could affect their ownership.
Protecting Your Intellectual Property
Once a student entrepreneur ascertains she owns the rights to her invention, they should take the proper steps to protect it. Student innovators should understand the basic categories of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
Patents are exclusive rights to construct, sell, and use your invention. Once granted, a patent is typically good for 20 years. Not all inventions, however, can or should be patented, especially if the future value of an invention is difficult to determine or if the design is likely to change in the future. Students should remember the first party to file a patent application secures priority, not the first person to invent. Therefore, patents should be filed quickly after the invention and before disclosure.
Copyrights protect original, creative work, like books, music, art, movies, plays, computer programs, and ads. Although creative works are automatically protected, copyright registration allows copyright owners to seek monetary damages and attorneys’ fees for infringement. In the academic context, copyright typically concerns software code and publishing.
Lastly, trademarks are distinctive marks, like words, phrases, or symbols, that identify goods or services. Although some common law protections are automatic at the state level without filing a trademark application, filing federally grants many added benefits not available through common law.
If you’re a student and need assistance navigating these issues, contact us to learn how we can help.