Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses the expression of ideas, information and knowledge. IP includes not only discoveries and inventions but also music, literature and other artistic works, as well as words, phrases, symbols and designs.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are the legal rights protecting the owners of IP. The first owner of IP is normally either the person who invents, authors or designs the IP, or his/her employer (depending on the contractual arrangements governing his/her work). Commercial exploitation of the IP can occur directly by the owner of the IP, or by licensing the IP to be used by other companies.

IP Rights (IPR)  – what can be licensed?

  • Copyright – the expression of ideas (e.g. software)
  • Database rights – collections of data (e.g. customer details)
  • Design rights – designs (e.g. the shape and appearance of a bottle such as Coke)
  • Knowledge – know-how (e.g. recipes can be a trade secret)
  • Research reagents and materials – (e.g. model organisms, proteins, DNA/RNA, etc)
  • Patents – how something works (e.g. the method of production)
  • Trademarks – the designation of origin and reputation of goods and services (e.g. logo)

In the University context, IP can be considered as the outcome of research projects, collaborations, consultancies and other activities. At the University of Cambridge this is governed by the University Intellectual Property Rights Policy.

The University’s current Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy was adopted in 2005 (see the policy in full). It is located in Chapter XIII of the University’s Statutes and Ordinances, section ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ (pp.1073–1080). For clarification regarding specific clauses in IPR policy, refer to the IPR Policy Guidance.

For information on how the IPR policy operates on a day to day basis, and clarification of the respective responsibilities for managing IP for all involved, refer to the Guidance Note.

IPR and students

The IPR policy includes sections that relate specifically to students.

If you are a student and you have contributed to the creation of an invention, it is important to clarify the details surrounding any agreements, particularly sponsorship and collaboration agreements, which may stipulate the ownership of IP. This is because when students are not employees of the University, students own the IP in the material they create, except:

  • when the student’s sponsorship agreement with their sponsor states otherwise
  • when the student is engaged in research that is governed by an agreement between the University and a third party that states otherwise
  • when the student is working in collaboration with others in a way that gives rise to joint or interdependent creation of IP.

Students need to check the specific circumstances and include those details when submitting the invention disclosure form to Cambridge Enterprise. Supervisors also have an obligation to make sure students know about these obligations before starting their research.

For additional IP information visit:

UK Intellectual Property Office

European Patent Office

United States Patent and Trademark Office

World Intellectual Property Organisation


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