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Intellectual Property Policy guidance

UCL’s Intellectual Property Policy sets out the principles of ownership/rights to use intellectual property (IP) generated by UCL’s staff and students.

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Introduction to UCL's IP policy

Intellectual property, or 'IP', is a broad term that covers various categories of intellectual creation and assets generated by the UCL community. It does not typically include technical expertise (however specialised) or general knowledge in the field. The categories most relevant to UCL staff and students will typically be copyright and patentable inventions/patents. 

UCL employees can (and are expected to) use UCL’s IP, and take decisions in relation to it, in their day-to-day activities. For example, UCL staff can decide to publish their research (rather than, e.g., first protect an underlying invention through patenting). They can also take decisions appropriate to their role in relation to licensing/sharing UCL’s IP (such as software and databases) with others for research, e.g. sharing on an open-source basis. 

UCL students (as a general principle) own intellectual property they generate whether or not it arises in connection with their studies. There are some important exceptions and students should read the relevant section to determine whether such an exception may affect them. Otherwise students are free to choose what they do with any IP they generate. 

Given this fundamental difference between IP ownership for staff and students, much of the guidance provided here is necessarily focused on staff. 

This guide aims to help staff and students understand how the policy will operate in a range of possible scenarios. It is not exhaustive and is for guidance only. It does not constitute policy in and of itself. The guidance is not intended to (and does not) limit, extend, amend or otherwise vary the position set out in the policy.

If you have any questions about applying the policy, contact the appropriate office listed at the end of the page.

Teaching materials and research outputs

UCL staff own copyright in their teaching materials and scholarly materials (these terms are described in more detail in the policy).

There may be exceptions where UCL will retain ownership of copyright, e.g. if UCL commissions you to produce teaching materials for a specific purpose, e.g. for a third party or for a MOOC. See section 2.1.3 of the policy for details. 

Whatever the ownership situation, UCL also retains a right for use of these materials, so staff should be careful to recognise these rights if they license or transfer ownership of their materials to other parties. 

Copyright operates to protect the expression of ideas, e.g. in written works such as teaching materials and publications. It does not protect ideas themselves, so does not generally apply in relation to ideas or concepts, creations of the mind etc. in the context of teaching or academic scholarship. It will, however, protect against others copying the expression of the idea/concept, e.g. in the way the idea/concept is described in written documentation, or how material is organised etc. 

Using teaching materials to develop a textbook   

If you’re seeking to commercialise your teaching materials, you’ll need UCL’s permission. So if your textbook is intended to be marketed commercially, you’ll need UCL’s permission. Contact your Head of Department in the first instance to make this request.

UCL can (and would) only refuse permission if there was a legitimate reason to do so, e.g. if the textbook undermined UCL’s taught programmes or examinations in some way.

Copyright only protects the expression of an idea. So if the text of the textbook is sufficiently different in its form and content from your teaching materials (i.e. if the ideas are expressed in a different way), it would not constitute a copy of the teaching materials. In this case it would not be subject to the requirement for permission (assuming it was done outside of your UCL duties).

A colleague wishes to use your teaching materials 

If another UCL staff member wishes to use your teaching materials for their own teaching they should discuss this with you and should not use them without your consent (whether or not they contain research findings). If you let them use your materials, you may want to ask them to acknowledge your work.

Separately, UCL has a licence to use your teaching materials, as described in section 2.4 of the policy. This would typically be co-ordinated with your department/faculty.

Software, apps, source code

UCL owns IP in software created by staff, as the software represents an “intellectual asset” for the university (in the same way as a patentable invention or licensable dataset).

However, staff are encouraged to develop and use software as part of their research activity. You can decide how that software is shared with others (e.g. releasing under an open source licence), provided that there are no other restrictions on doing this (e.g. work being done under a collaboration agreement with an external party may make different provisions for ownership of IP.)

The same applies to any programme developed by UCL staff using open source software, e.g. via GNU General Public Licence (GPL). UCL would own any IP in the new software created, but UCL (acting through staff members) will need to comply with the terms of the GPL licence, e.g. to make the new software available on an open source basis. In practical terms this will involve UCL staff members complying with the terms of open source licences.

Syllabus, curriculum and other “institutional materials”

The general principle around teaching materials (i.e. that staff own the copyright) does not apply to “institutional materials”. Institutional materials are UCL-level materials used by UCL for administrative and operational purposes, e.g. to promote and manage its programmes and examinations.

Syllabi and curricula fall within this category as they describe the outline and summary of UCL programmes and individual modules etc. This does not impact on ownership of teaching materials: any teaching materials used to teach in line with any such syllabus and curriculum will still be owned by the UCL staff member.

Patents

UCL takes ownership of any patentable inventions created by UCL staff in the course of their duties.

Protection and commercialisation of patentable inventions, and revenue sharing with staff, is typically managed by UCL Business.

Databases created as part of your research

UCL owns IP in databases created by staff, as the database represents an “intellectual asset” for the university (in the same way as a patentable invention).

UCL staff are encouraged to develop and use databases and data sets as part of their UCL research activity. You can make decisions about how those data are shared with others as part of your research activity, where appropriate (e.g. sharing through a Creative Commons platform or licence).

Preparatory research materials, e.g. notes or images created in the context of research

Copyright in materials which are developed as part of your research and are preparatory to your research output will be treated as part of your scholarly materials. You’ll therefore own copyright in those materials (subject to the exceptions in paragraph 2.1.3 of the policy).

Publishing your research

UCL academics can take decisions about publication of their research.

You should take care when making arrangements with third-party publishers, to ensure you’re able to retain the ability to use your own materials for academic purposes, and that UCL’s license rights are respected.  If you have any further questions about copyright in published research, the Library Services Copyright team can help.

UCL has a licence to use your scholarly materials for academic, research and other charitable purposes. It has a right to sub-license these materials for these purposes only. UCL has no right to commercialise (or allow others to commercialise) your scholarly materials.

IP created outside of normal duties using UCL resources

UCL will own the IP arising where:

  1. the resources used are not generally available to staff (e.g. laptops are generally available to most UCL staff, but labs are not), and
  2. the use of the resources is more than incidental to the development of the IP (i.e. the specific UCL resource played an important part in the development of the IP).

The policy does not apply to more typical everyday examples such as the development of written publications on a staff member’s laptop (although, separately, staff members should ensure they are aware of relevant policy on the appropriate use of UCL IT).

Moral rights

Moral rights are a category of rights related to copyright, which arise in certain circumstances and provide specific protections for an author, e.g. to object to derogatory treatment of their work or to be identified as author.

Moral rights typically don’t arise in relation to employee-generated works. Where you do have moral rights, you are generally free to assert these against third parties.

Taking teaching and scholarly materials with you when you leave UCL

You’re free to take with you all teaching and scholarly materials that you own.

If you wish to take with you any IP or materials belonging to UCL, you should discuss this with your Head of Department in the first instance. For IP, this discussion should include the option of taking a licence of the IP for academic/research purposes.

You can also continue to make use of any IP or materials owned by UCL which have been made available for use through a public access platform, in the accordance with the terms of any licence (e.g. under Creative Commons).

Individuals who are not employees or who are both students and staff members

The definition of “UCL staff” in the policy is broad and covers individuals in various contexts, including contractors, secondees, visitors or those on honorary contracts. Care should be taken to ensure the documentation relating to the appointment of these individuals also makes clear that the IP policy will apply.

In certain circumstances, an individual may be both a staff member and a student at UCL. Typically their involvement as a student will be separate from their role as staff member, and in that case the relevant aspect of the policy will apply to the particular activity. In cases where it is not possible to distinguish student and staff activity, the default position would be to treat the individual as a member of staff. This approach (or any alternative position) should be set out clearly in any appointment documentation.

Consultancy 

It’s possible that IP you create at UCL may be used in the context of consultancy activity, e.g. through UCL Consultants, where the terms of UCL’s consultancy policy and UCL Consultants’ operating arrangements allow for this.

If you’re involved with consultancy activity outside of UCL Consultants it will be your responsibility to ensure you have the right to use any IP in the context of your consultancy. The UCL policy on consultancy provides further details on private consultancy arrangements.

If you have further questions about consultancy, please contact UCL Consultants.

Rewards when IP you create is exploited commercially

Where UCL commercialises IP generated by a UCL staff member, that staff member will be entitled to a share of revenue received by UCL on the terms of UCL’s Revenue Sharing Policy. In certain circumstances students may also be brought into the Revenue Sharing Policy, particularly where IP may have been jointly created with a member of academic staff.

Disagreements about IP 

Staff should seek to resolve any disputes with their department or faculty where possible. Heads of Department and Faculty Deans are responsible for  implementing the policy and seeking to resolve disputes.

If issues cannot be resolved by your department or faculty, the matter may be referred to the Vice-Provost (Enterprise).

Questions and contacts

Implementation of the policy at faculty level is the responsibility of Faculty Deans and Heads of Department. You should also seek to resolve questions or disagreements concerning IP at the faculty level where possible.

Overall responsibility for the policy and its implementation at UCL lies with the Vice-Provost (Enterprise), supported by the Library in relation to copyright issues.

Commercialisation of IP generated by UCL staff is typically handled via UCL Business PLC.

IP may also be exploited in connection with consultancy activity via UCL Consultants Limited.

Further information

The UK Intellectual Property Office is a great source of background information and training materials relating to IP.