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Intellectual property

30 October 2006

Inventions, developmental research, writing and recording, among other activities, are at the heart of the work of academic and related staff in higher 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 main types of intellectual property of relevance to higher education are patents for inventions - new and improved products or processes capable of industrial application. And copyright for material - course design, literary and artistic material, music, software and so on.

Some intellectual property rights, such as those governed by copyright law, are automatic. Others can only be protected after the rights have been applied for and granted.

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

Individual institutions will have differing policies and agreements with regard to the exploitation of intellectual property. Some institutions have also established companies through which all income generated as a result of the exploitation of intellectual property is routed. 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.

The post-92 national contract also includes clauses on patent, copyright and confidential information, and academic freedom (these improve on the statutory position in that staff retain copyright over the work they produce as part of their scholarly activity).

Our main concern is with the control members may reasonably expect to have over the way in which their work is used, so as to enhance and protect their professional standing and get a fair reward.

You can find more information and guidance in our series of FAQ documents:

Model agreement and examples of university revenue-sharing agreements*

You should contact your branch or local association in the first instance about the terms of your own institution's contracts.

*These documents are retained for information; branches are advised to contact their regional office for up-to-date information that may affect local negotiations.

Last updated: 4 October 2019