An intellectual property disclaimer is important when you have or intend to create any form of IP, whether it be for your job or as an inventor.

What is Intellectual Property?

There are several types of intellectual property within the law, but the two that are most common are copyrights and patents. These federal statutes are defined as:

When used in an agreement, a copyright means that a bundle of different rights that protect the original work of an author of any physical form of expression from which it can be reproduced or communicated directly or with assistance of a device or machine.

A work of authorship can include:

  • Works of literature
  • Music
  • Drama along with any music
  • Pantomimes
  • Choreography
  • Photographs
  • Prints
  • Diagrams
  • Models
  • Technical drawings
  • Movies
  • Sound recordings
  •  Architecture

Tangible forms of media can include periodicals, books, records, tapes, films, disks, and manuscripts.

A patent means that a bundle of rights that provides protection of discoveries or inventions that create any new or useful process, manufacture, machine, or composition of matter. It also includes new designs for useful plant patents being used for asexual reproduction of a variety of plants. This includes sprouts, hybrids, and newly discovered seedlings.

With regard to computer software, they are in a bit of a gray area among two forms of IP.  Programs deemed as a new and useful process can be eligible for a patent. Programs that embody minimal original expression can fall under copyright protection.

The length of a patent is 20 years from the time it was filed. The actual patent protection starts when the patent is issued from the Patent and Trademark Office. The length of a copyright is the life of the author with an additional 70 years.

Before that time, the length of a copyright had been 75 years, then increased in 1998 to 95 years.

In contrast to patents, copyright protection falling under the Copyright Act will attach right after the work is placed on paper. There is no reason to place any type of notice on copies or make application with the Copyright Office for registration.

Who Owns the Intellectual Property?

The AAUP has made a policy Statement on Copyright but has not addressed any questions of patents. The copyright statement assumes that the members who create the IP will own it. The AAUP Statement on Copyright says, “It has been the prevailing academic practice to treat the faculty member as the copyright owner of works that are created independently and at the faculty member's own initiative for traditional academic purposes."

Even though that assumption can apply to the patent as well, in the academic context, there is the practice of making agreements between a university administration and faculty inventor that allow a way to share income from commercially applying inventions that are patented.

Any IP made or created by a member of faculty will be the exclusive property of the author, inventor, or faculty member. He or she can voluntarily opt to transfer, in full or in part, that property.

The AAUP Statement on Copyright states there are three defined sets of circumstances in which a college can claim copyright ownership:

  • Any special pieces of work that was created in for the purpose of being “made for hire.” The work should not be treated as such just because it is made using university resources.
  • Negotiated contractual transfers
  • Any “joint work” described in the Copyright Act in which the institution is a co-author

A university can own a copyright only in the following instances:

  • The university directs a member of the faculty to create a specific work or it is created as a requirement of his or her employment or as an assigned duty that could be listed in a job description.
  • The author voluntarily transferred the rights of the copyright to the university. This transfer will be in written form and signed by the author.
  • The university contributed “joint work” within the Copyright Act. The college can enact joint ownership in this instance if it has provided special services or facilities to the creation of the work than what is typically used in the scope of authorship. This arrangement should be in writing before embarking on the agreement.

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