‘Intellectual property' includes different types of inventions, designs, brand names and other original creations.
Intellectual property rights give protection to the intellectual property of an individual, group or organisation (including universities). They assert the right of the owner to prevent unauthorised use of the invention, or unathorised profit from it. The two areas of intellectual property rights that are probably most relevant to you as a member of research staff are patents and copyright.
The UK Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) website gives a clear guide to the different types of intellectual property and how these are protected in law.
The IPR defines a patent as "a 20 year absolute monopoly in new and inventive technical innovations".
If you think that the outcome of your research could be patented then you should discuss this with your research manager. Your university's Research Development or Business Development Office can support and advise you through the patent application process.
The IPR defines copyright as "a right to prevent reproduction of an original literary, artistic, musical or dramatic work for 70 years beyond the death of the author."
Copyright is a complex area. Unlike a patent, you do not have to apply for, or register, copyright. It is automatically conferred on work that is original and is expressed in a "fixed material form" e.g. writing or visual representation.
Relevance of copyright in universities
The Joint Information Services Committee (JISC) Legal Information Service website contains information on intellectual property, data protection, freedom of information, etc. It has some useful guidance on copyright and particularly, exceptions to the copyright law which include:
- research or private study: UK copyright law permits copying of works for research or private study for ‘non-commercial' purposes. Research and private study are individual acts. The law also requires that sufficient acknowledgment be given to the copied source when used in research or private study. For researchers in Further and Higher Education, this creates an obligation to cite work correctly when referenced in publications, unless acknowledgement is impossible for practical reasons.
- educational purposes: limited use of copyright works in the educational environment is permitted if:
- the source is acknowledged
- it is not done through reprographic means (e.g. multiple photocopying, faxing, scanning);
- it is not aimed at a commercial purpose.
Copyright and the internet
The same is true if you are writing for the internet. You (and/or the page owner) will have certain rights in the work that you post online. This means that others cannot simply copy your work and use it for their benefit without attributing it.
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