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Intellectual property rights

Inventions, developmental research, writing and recording are at the heart of the work of many academic and related staff in post-school education. Intellectual property rights allow for the ownership and reward of this creativity and innovation in the same way that physical property can be owned.

The law governing these rights - who owns them, who can use which material and in what way, and how much you can expect to benefit from your inventions, research or writing - is complex.

Many UCU members are both creators of intellectual property and users of it, often on a large scale. There are real tensions between the rights of creators and users; some rights, such as those granted by copyright law, are automatic, while others can only be protected after the rights have been applied for and granted.

UCU seeks to strike a balance over the way in which members' work is used, to enhance and protect their professional standing and to ensure they receive fair reward. We believe that institutions should have negotiated policies, the principal objectives of which ensure that:

  • scholars, researchers and performers retain control over their work to the greatest extent reasonable and practicable - they should retain copyright in material produced during the course of their duties, allowing in some cases free use for teaching purposes within the employing institution, and being strongly encouraged in all cases to license rather than assign their copyright to publishers
  • the intellectual property rights to any invention produced in the course of employment belong to the employer, subject to an obligation on the latter's part either to exploit these rights or else to assign them back to the inventor(s), and to enter into a revenue-sharing agreement with the employee inventor(s)
  • the rights of all parties who may have a legitimate claim to be the author of a work or an inventor are negotiated sooner rather than later
  • there is an agreed arbitration procedure to resolve disagreements.

Your UCU branch/local association will have detailed knowledge about the particular agreements in place within your institution. Many of these will enable you to benefit financially from certain ideas, which could be commercially exploited by your employer - although the extent of this can vary.

In higher education, it is common for the individual institution to be the first owner of the intellectual property and its associated rights generated by any employee, although many waive their rights to the copyright of standard academic publications.

Individual institutions will have differing policies and agreements with regard to the exploitation of intellectual property. Some institutions have established companies which handle all income generated as a result of the exploitation of intellectual property. Some also have revenue sharing agreements, set up to enable the employee and university to share in the exploitation of intellectual property according to specified criteria.

Although UCU cannot help with third parties (for example, publishers), we can advise and represent you in disputes about the interpretation and application of university/college policies or your employment contract.

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