Innovation & Enterprise


Intellectual Property Policy: guidance relating to student IP

This guide aims to help you understand how UCL’s IP policy will operate in a range of scenarios relating to intellectual property created by UCL students.


Introduction to UCL’s IP Policy and aims of this guidance

Intellectual property, or 'IP', is a broad term that covers various categories of intellectual creations and assets. Such creative outputs can be as varied as publications, inventions, and artworks. The UCL community generates all these intellectual creations and many more besides.

Although many creative outputs are classed as IP, technical expertise (however specialised) and general knowledge are typically excluded.

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

Aims of this guidance

This guide aims to help students and staff understand how UCL’s IP policy will operate in a range of possible scenarios. It’s 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.

UCL cannot advise individual students on how to handle their own IP as this could result in a conflict of interest for the university. There will be times when students require further advice and guidance on protecting their intellectual property. Some further resources are listed below, but students are responsible for seeking their own advice on how to manage their own IP.

Online IP training

To help students and staff understand and protect intellectual property and how it’s handled at UCL, we’ve developed online IP training.

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

UCL’s general position: students own their IP

As a general principle, UCL recognises students as owners of any IP that they create while they’re a registered student of UCL (section 3.1.1, UCL IP Policy). Such creations can include: 

  • essays, dissertations and theses
  • apps
  • artworks
  • databases
  • designs
  • logos
  • recordings
  • software

There are some possible exceptions to this principle, which might include any of the following.

Exceptions to student IP ownership

External funding and IP

Where a student receives external funding for their studies, they often retain ownership of their IP. In certain circumstances, however, the terms of funding agreements determine the ownership of any IP arising from a project.

To understand their intellectual property rights, students should check any research contract they may be asked to sign associated with their studies.


If a student is studying on a studentship that’s funded by an external organisation (such as within a doctoral training programme), the contract that UCL entered into with the external organisation may include clauses governing IP (section 3.2.1, UCL IP Policy).

These contracts are negotiated by UCL Research and Innovation Services. They outline how external organisations (for example, research councils such as UKRI, UK or overseas charities, industry or commerce, UK or overseas governments) fund research at UCL, including studentships.

When a student enters into a studentship, they may be asked to assign their IP to UCL as the university manages the negotiations and relationship with the external funders involved. The specific terms of this studentship IP agreement will then prevail over UCL’s general IP policy.

Example: If a PhD student accepts an offer of a studentship at UCL that’s funded by a research council with a funding contribution from a company, the student may have to grant UCL the IP arising from their research so that UCL can handle contractual arrangements with the company.

There are additional considerations when a UCL spinout company or other company linked with academic staff provides student sponsorship. As UCL staff or students have created such companies, or are associated with them, there needs to be clear processes and agreements in place around the ownership of IP arising through the research.

Find out more about UCL spinouts and student sponsorship.

Student-brokered sponsorship

If a student enters UCL with an agreement already in place around their funding from an external organisation (for example a non-UK government), the sponsor may have a claim on the IP that the student creates. The details of who owns any IP arising from the project should be recorded in the contract or agreement that the student signed to receive the funding.

Example: If an external company funds a student’s Master’s degree at UCL, the agreement between the student and the company may stipulate that the IP arising from certain aspects of the degree belongs to the company.


It’s typically the case that loans, especially UK-based loans for academic study, make no claims on IP. However, students should check their contract with the loan provider.

Collaborative work and IP 

At UCL, students and staff will sometimes collaborate on projects and create IP together. As the IP arising from such collaborative work is generated by multiple people, this creates more complexity in relation to IP ownership and management.

Collaborative work: possible scenarios

As a general principle, students own the IP they create when they’re working collaboratively with UCL staff or students (section 3.3.1, UCL IP Policy). Depending on the scope of the collaboration and the extent of their input, students may own IP separate and distinct from their collaborators or they might share ownership of the IP with their collaborators in accordance with who made which inventive step.  

Where existing UCL IP is used as the foundation on which to develop new IP, however, UCL will own the new IP regardless of who developed it. So for any projects based on IP belonging to UCL or a member of UCL staff (i.e. ‘background IP’) and/or projects that depend heavily on additional UCL resource (e.g. specialist laboratory equipment), UCL will own the IP developed by students because the university’s input of resources made such projects possible (section 3.3.2, UCL IP Policy). As with staff, as part of this process UCL will seek a confirmatory assignment of the IP where the student transfers ownership of the IP to UCL.

In certain situations, it might make sense when commercialising a body of work involving both student-owned IP and UCL-owned IP for the student to assign their portion of the IP to UCL. Such a decision would be entirely at the student’s discretion. In such circumstances UCL would recommend that students seek external legal advice as appropriate.

In all circumstances where a student has developed IP and then assigned it to UCL, if the IP is commercialised the student will be entitled to a share of any revenue received in the same way as UCL staff members (section 4.1, UCL IP Policy). This will be in accordance with UCL’s Revenue Sharing Policy.

In practice, students and supervisors will exchange ideas regularly and it can be difficult in retrospect to distinguish the originator of individual ideas. It’s therefore essential that the creation of IP is properly documented.

Significant use of UCL or staff IP

If a student creates IP that’s derived from or is based on IP belonging to UCL or a member of UCL staff (‘background IP’), UCL will own the IP developed by the student (section 3.3.2a, UCL IP Policy). This applies to both IP created by a sole student originator and to IP developed collaboratively.

Example: If a PhD student joins an ongoing research project based on background IP belonging to UCL, UCL would have a claim on the IP arising from the student's research. This is because the university's input of background IP made the project possible.

Additional use of UCL resources 

If a student uses additional resources in a project that are not generally available (for example computers are generally available, highly specialist laboratory equipment is not) and the use of the resources is more than incidental to the development of the IP, UCL may own the resulting IP (section 3.3.2b, UCL IP Policy). This applies to IP created by a sole student originator and to IP developed collaboratively.

Example: If a student is using highly specialised high-powered laboratory equipment at UCL as part of their studies, UCL would have a claim on the IP arising from the student’s research. This is because the university's input of specialist additional resources made the project possible.

In recognition of the contribution that students make to IP arising from projects based on UCL’s background IP and/or heavily dependent on UCL’s additional resources, if UCL pursues commercialisation of such projects the student(s) involved will be entitled to a share of any revenue received in the same way as UCL staff members (section 4.1, UCL IP Policy). This will be in accordance with UCL’s Revenue Sharing Policy.

Other circumstances involving student IP ownership

Independent laboratories and institutes

If a student is based in an independent laboratory or institute, the distinctive nature of these institutions means that special IP conditions may apply to the student’s work. Such institutions include The Francis Crick Institute, the UK Dementia Research Institute and the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

Individuals who are both students and staff members 

In certain circumstances an individual may be both a staff member and a student at UCL. Typically, their involvement as students will be separate from their role as staff members, so the relevant aspect of the policy will apply depending on the activity (section 1.5, UCL IP Policy).

Example: If a PhD student also works as a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PGTA) at UCL, their activities as a researcher and as a teacher are separate. The student-focused clauses of UCL’s IP policy will govern their research outputs, while the staff-focused clauses of the policy will govern their teaching activities.

To avoid confusion in cases where it could be more difficult to distinguish between staff and student roles, it’s good practice to employ IP management strategies to ensure clarity around developing IP.

Find out more about owning and managing staff intellectual property at UCL.

UCL’s right to showcase student work

If a student creates an artistic work as part of their studies, they’ll own the copyright to this piece. However, UCL retains the right to exhibit the work and reproduce it for educational or promotional purposes without payment of fees or royalties (section 3.4.2a-c, UCL IP Policy).

Example: If a student painted a picture as part of their degree programme they’d own the copyright to this artistic work. However, UCL could reproduce the piece in a prospectus to showcase our students’ activity without paying fees or royalties.

Submission, examination, publication and commercialisation

The management of IP remains a consideration for those students submitting their research projects and for those who wish to publish or commercialise their work. This is because publishing or disclosing sensitive information about IP will make it impossible to secure a patent subsequently.

Submission and examination

In cases where a student has entered into an agreement regarding the ownership of IP, the student should check whether this commits them to any particular arrangements concerning the submission and examination of their thesis. The student should also check whether this agreement commits them to embargoing their thesis for a period after the viva.


In those instances where a student wants to publish material based on their research (either before or after their viva), the student should consider whether publication would reveal sensitive information about IP that could prevent them securing a patent.

It’s also important that students who’ve entered into an agreement regarding the ownership of IP check whether this commits them to any particular arrangements in terms of publishing their work.

Example: If a student collaborates with their supervisor in developing an invention, the student and supervisor may need to delay publication of their results to allow time to apply for a patent.

Commercialisation and revenue sharing 

In certain circumstances, such as when a student is funded through a studentship co-funded by an external organisation, the student will be asked to assign their IP to UCL. They’ll do this in the form of an agreement signed between UCL and the student.

In cases where a student assigns their IP to UCL, if any subsequent IP is commercialised the student will be entitled to a share of any revenue received (section 4.1, UCL IP Policy). The student will receive revenue on the same terms as staff. This is detailed in UCL’s Revenue Sharing Policy.

IP management strategies

Where there’s a risk of confusion about IP ownership, such as within collaborative work or where a student is also employed as a member of staff, it’s good practice to put in place an IP management strategy. This can help ensure ongoing clarity about IP arising from the work.

IP management strategies can take various forms depending on the nature of the project. Whichever strategy is used, however, it should ensure good record keeping throughout the lifetime of the project. This will help establish IP ownership if any questions should arise at a later stage. It should also make provision for discussions between students and supervisors that set clear expectations about the development, ownership, and management of IP.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and IP

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in research and innovation is a live and complex issue that raises many questions around IP.

AI tools such as ChatGPT can create plausible answers to assignments, construct essays, and write computer code, all in seconds.

UCL has guidance around the role of AI in education and assessment for students.

In addition to this, it’s essential that researchers at all levels are aware that inputting ideas into AI tools might constitute an IP disclosure or a breach of confidentially where we have undertaken to third parties to keep certain things confidentially. This is because AI tools might use your input ideas to create subsequent outputs, sharing your IP without either your permission or acknowledging your role in its creation.

If your IP is shared in this way, it means that your ideas have been disclosed. This could potentially make it impossible to secure a patent or other legal protections.

Example: If a UCL individual uses an AI tool to write up their notes into an appropriate style for a paper, and these notes contain new IP, this might constitute a disclosure.

Questions, contacts and further information 

Questions and contacts 

For general UCL IP policy support, email intellectualproperty@ucl.ac.uk

For questions relating to the following areas, and to find out more, see the appropriate pages: 

Further information

UCL has developed online IP training to help students and staff understand and protect intellectual property.

UCL Business have produced a helpful guide for academics on patenting (pdf).

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

The British Library's Business and IP Centre is another good source of background information relating to IP.