Barring the most astute and commercially aware, many students, when signing up to a university or college course would not have given much thought as to the ownership of their intellectual property rights in the work they create during their time at university/college. It can be argued that the majority of students are not aware of intellectually property except in a vague term and the promise of enrolling on a programme of choice outweighs any consideration as to the ownership of title in any work they produce as part of that course.
A recent survey of 60 plus universities in the UK found that 48 of the universities surveyed contained provisions for dealing with the intellectual property ownership of student work, and 16 universities, approximately 20 percent, claimed title in the intellectual property of their students work as a condition of enrolment.
Some institutions take an enlightened view on this matter with The Royal College of Art being one such institute. At the RCA title to intellectual property is held by the university until the student in question graduates. This is done to protect the student from issues of infringement occasioned by the public display of their work.
The majority of the 48 universities surveyed that granted students ownership of their intellectual property title had certain provisions that allowed the institute ownership of title in circumstances were members of staff have had an input in the work, the students have signed up to a particular agreement or where students have collaborated in a project.
A distinction can also be made between students of the design industries versus those of the sciences or engineering who are typically sponsored by the university or an external third party funder, be it a charity, organisation or company. In such circumstances, there can be no doubt in the wording of agreements in which the student is informed that any and all exploitable intellectual property rights belong to the university and/or the funding body.
Mandy Haberman, director of the IP Awareness Network, opined that such agreements were both out dated and excessive and could hinder entrepreneurial spirit.
A level of sympathy can be attributed to the institutes for having a one size fits all policy whereby the institute owns the intellectual property title of its students, however, Charles Oppenheim, visiting professor at the University of Nottingham warned that a number of reports including the JISC Legal report in 2007 viewed these contractual terms as unfair and unlikely to be ratified at court.
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