Can a College Own Your Intellectual Property?
There are brilliant college students. Then there are creative and brilliant college students who introduce entertainment and new products to the world.
Do colleges hold a student’s intellectual property rights, or do the students?
It depends on the school and the student’s work.
The University of California system, as one example, publishes a guide to a students’s intellectual property rights. In summary it says: “if it’s invented on our property, with our equipment and/or with our money, it’s ours.” You might not complain if the university has helped you pay for your education, or if your favorite professor helped you win a fellowship. But if you did the work for degree credits at your expense you’ll probably be unhappy. Princeton, among other schools, has similar policies. Penn State, on the contrary, allows undergraduates to own their work, art or science, unless they were paid research assistants.
At Stanford student intellectual property rights belong to the university for technology invented in the university laboratories. However, copyrights to pedagogical, scholarly, or artistic works, regardless of their form of expression, belong to the students. If you go to Stanford and make a film, you own the rights, even if Stanford loaned you the cameras and other equipment.
But the University of Southern California takes a different approach to rights on films. The university owns the copyright to your film. But the film student owns the intellectual property rights to the script. If that script is later used to make a movie, TV show or game, the university claims nothing. However, when it comes to technology developed on campus the intellectual property rules are similar to the University of California system.
As you see there are different rules for different schools.
If you are considering colleges with an eye towards graduating with the rights to a technology or creative work, ask questions. These include:
Does the school have the equipment and facilities to let you do what you want to do?
I have visited engineering labs at Princeton and Stanford that have equipment that a college student could never hope to afford. But few can gain admission to these schools. If you have a creative mind, ask to see the equipment and facilities at each of your target schools. Make sure that you will have access to them and that you can do what you want to do.
If the work is unpaid, but for credit, what are your rights?
You might get credit and a nice letter to an employer, but nothing else, if you did the work on campus. However, if you did all of the work off-campus, with no intention of submitting it for a grade, then the intellectual property rights should belong to you. But other schools, like Penn State, will grant you ownership.
If the work is not a product for a class for a grade, may I still use equipment and facilities on campus?
Some schools have “incubators” outside of labs on campus. Their staff provide advice and work space that a college student is not likely to afford on their own. They might also help you license your product. But the rules might differ among schools when you borrow equipment to complete your product or project.
How are rights and royalties decided and divided?
As you saw above, you might not own the copyright, but you could own the intellectual property. A school might also award royalties if you developed a technology that could be licensed and sold commercially. Royalty formulas differ from school to school.
What are your motivations?
The best ideas might be brilliant, but too expensive to be commercially viable. However, your brilliance might be valued by an employer who can give you resources as well as a nice income. If you are an artist or musician is your goal to produce your work or perform it? A college might not be able to stop you from singing a song that you wrote on campus. But it might insist on rights if you put that song into a collection for sale.
While more and more colleges are going test optional, admissions officers will need more and better information to craft a class. Those who have an idea that solves a problem or fills a market need will have an edge.
Want to know more about me, and how I define a good college? Listen these podcasts?
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!