Own-it | Intellectual Property Know-How for Creative Businesses


Who owns the IP – the student or the academic institution?

Published 26.11.09 at 10:12

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. It will depend on the work or invention created and whether you have entered into any agreement in relation to that work.

Students create a range of work during their time at an educational institution and different IP rights will protect the various types of work. These will range from copyright in articles, assignments, theses, computer programs, and musical and artistic works, to patentable inventions and designs.

Copyright and design rights arise automatically on creation of a student's work include, but other rights such as patents, registered designs and trade marks require you to make an application for registration in order to obtain protection.

Generally, the first owner of the IPrights in a work product will be its creator. Accordingly, if none of the factors set out below apply, the first owner of copyright in a work will be its author, artist or composer and the person entitled to make an application to register a patent will be its inventor.

However, there are a number of cases where a third party may have rights in that work. These include:

  • If you are an employee of the university and create your work in the course of your employment, the university will be the first owner.
  • If you have created your work as part of a collaboration with other students or an academic, or if you have built on work carried out by another party, you may jointly own the IP with that other party.
  • If you have signed an assignment or licence agreement, likely to be in favour of the university, the university will have acquired certain rights in respect of the IP in your work depending on the terms of the agreement.
  • If a third party has commissioned you to produce your work, any design right in that work will be owned by the party who commissioned the work.

(For further information, see Who owns the IP – the employer or the employee? and/or Who owns the IP – the freelancer or the client?)

In addition, if you have acted on the instructions of your supervisor to create or invent a product or have used the institution's facilities and resources in undertaking your research, the educational institution may have an implied licence to use, develop or make the product in which your IP lies. Whether such a licence exists and the scope of any such licence will depend on the facts of your case.  

The educational institution is likely to have its own IP policy. The IP policy may require you to assign your rights to the institution or to grant a licence to the institution. Where IP of interest to the institution may be developed in the course of a project, it will often be the case that the educational institution will require you to sign an assignment agreement at the start of a project.

We strongly recommend that you thoroughly investigate the IP policy of your educational institution to assess the extent to which you own and are entitled to use the IP rights in work you create and to consider any measures which you can take to safeguard your rights.

Content supplied by College of Law students at the Moorgate Centre supervised by Tim Harris of Bird & Bird LLP. Photo credit: DcJohn

For further information, see 'Who owns student work?', an article in The Design Observer in January 2009.


Please note that this article discusses the legal position in the UK at the time of publication. It provides general information only but is not to be regarded as legal advice. You must take advice from a specialist lawyer in relation to your specific circumstances. Further, you should seek additional legal advice when dealing with parties based in other parts of the world or works originating from other parts of the world as the legal position may vary.


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