Should College Students Get to Keep Their Patent Rights?

IP News and Information

Some of the greatest innovators, and inventions, come from colleges and universities all over the world. These educational institutes create hundreds of new technologies and receive dozens of patents every year. While many of these patents never turn into products that reach the market, there are some inventions that go on to become the center of successful start-up companies. Students and faculty members alike work on these inventions to get them off the ground and later patented. One of the biggest questions in regards to this process is: whom does the IP actually belong to?

Who Really Owns the IP?

There is not an easy answer to this question, because there are usually a lot of hands involved in the process. However, there is a growing push by students who create new inventions – and get them patented as part of a “capstone” project – to allow them to keep their intellectual property after it is granted. The problem right now in most cases is that many universities maintain ownership of these inventions after the students graduate and move on. The question is, though, should students that are not employees of the university get to maintain ownership of their intellectual property rights, even though they used their school to do their research and get it to the point of being patented?

Students Pushing for More IP Rights

To that end, one group of students from several universities all over the state of Virginia has formed a group called Students for Intellectual Property Rights. The group’s purpose is to convince administrators and policy makers that those students who do not work for the institutions where they attend school should be able to maintain ownership of the IP rights to the products they create. For many students it’s a simple question of why bother working so hard to come up with a great invention if the university is simply going to hold onto ownership. Even if the university only keeps a partial stake sometimes that could end up being a huge portion of the product’s potential value.

Do Your Homework Before You Sign

Many universities even require students to sign release agreements that essentially force students to turn over their IP rights to the school. While the subject is still up for debate, this does make sense in cases in which the students are graduate students who are actually employed by the school. However, for those students that simply develop their inventions as part of their graduation requirements, the issue is lot less clear. Signing an agreement like this can end up being costly to students who end up creating something that has great potential value. If students aren’t careful they could end up signing away untold profit potential. For some students in this situation, it’s probably a good idea to consult with an IP attorney to be sure they know what they’re agreeing to before they sign.

Know Your Rights and Protect Them

Every situation is different, and it’s not usually a matter of a university trying to steal from its students. Indeed, in many cases, the university should have a stake in the IP ownership. Likewise, there are many universities that do not have a problem sharing IP rights with students who do the research and help patent the invention, especially when the student is not a university employee. The bottom line is that student researchers and inventors need to be aware of their rights and do everything they can to protect them.