Intellectual property policies for universities

November 2019

Universities and public research institutions (PRIs) play an important role in advancing the frontiers of science and technology. They are the birthplace of pioneering discoveries and inventions that have enhanced the lives of millions. Knowledge and technology generated in universities and public research institutions can have immense economic and societal benefit.

In order to bring research results to the next stage of development, universities and public research institutions need a policy for effective intellectual property (IP) management and knowledge transfer. An IP policy provides structure, predictability, and a beneficial environment in which enterprises and researchers can access and share knowledge, technology and IP.

The Role of IP in research and teaching

Intellectual property plays an essential role in the teaching and research functions of universities and public research institutions. Whether it is basic “blue-sky” or applied research, through their research and development (R&D) activities, universities and public research institutions produce results in the form of inventions. Many of these inventions are patentable, but are often no more than a proof of concept of a laboratory-scale prototype, which require further R&D prior to possible commercialization. By granting universities and public research institutions the rights to their own IP derived from publicly funded research, and allowing them to commercialize their results, governments around the world are trying to accelerate the transformation of research-based inventions into industrial processes and products by strengthening collaborative ties among universities and industry.

Knowledge and technology generated in universities and public research institutions can have immense economic and societal benefit.

In addition, the teaching activities of a university or public research institute will generate IP in the form of teaching materials, theses, software and designs. While the Internet and other modern technologies have fostered greater access to scholarly materials, these advanced technologies have also given rise to a growing number of disputes over the ownership and use of these materials.

Why do universities and public research institutions need an IP policy?

The WIPO IP Policy Toolkit for Universities and Research Institutions
(IP Policy Toolkit) provides all the relevant elements to develop an
institutional IP policy.

Traditionally, universities serve the public interest by providing graduates to meet the needs of industry and business. With that focus, universities have published the results of research activities and have made them freely available. Today, this is often viewed as incompatible with industry’s need to keep information confidential and to protect it with IP rights, such as patents. This, coupled with the process of globalization, is requiring universities and public research institutes to collaborate more closely with business partners at home and abroad, which, in turn, means taking steps to adequately protect and manage research results through effective use of the IP system.

In an era where universities and public research institutions are expected to more actively participate in economic development, innovation and IP takes on growing importance. This evolving context is driving universities and public research institutions to explore strategies that will leverage their IP assets, while also preserving their essential character as educational and research institutions. Institutional IP policies are a first step in doing so.

Advantages of an Institutional IP Policy

An institutional IP policy clarifies the ownership of and right to use the IP resulting from the institution’s own or collaborative R&D activities. It sets out the institution’s strategy when it comes to identifying, evaluating, protecting and managing IP for its further development, usually through some form of commercialization. Such a policy also provides a transparent framework for cooperation with third parties and provides guidelines on the sharing of economic benefits arising from the commercialization of IP.

Without a formal policy to regulate the ownership and use of IP rights, the different stakeholders in a partnership involving academia (e.g. professors, researchers, students) and commercialization partners (e.g. industrial sponsors, consultants, non-profit organizations, small and medium-sized enterprises and governments) would have no guidance on how to make decisions concerning IP. This could inhibit the process of commercializing research results.

WIPO IP Policy Toolkit for Universities and Research Institutions

Since 2015, WIPO has been developing a toolkit to support its member states and their universities and public research institutions in developing customized IP policies. The WIPO IP Policy Toolkit for Universities and Research Institutions (IP Policy Toolkit) provides all the relevant elements to develop an institutional IP policy. It consists of six components:

Volume 1:

  • An IP Policy Template for Universities and Research Institutions
  • Guidelines for Implementation of the IP Policy Template
  • Policy Writer’s Checklist

Volume 2:

  • A Roadmap for the Utilization of Academic Assets
  • Model Agreements
  • Hypothetical Cases

The IP Policy Template and its Guidelines provide universities with a range of options with regard to specific provisions on IP-related matters. The aim is to promote reflection and critical thinking, to encourage responsible IP commercialization of academic research results.

In general terms, the IP Policy Toolkit is designed to help policy makers make informed decisions when developing their institutional IP policy, and to give researchers and faculty an insight into IP issues relevant to a university setting. The Toolkit also seeks to promote the modernization and harmonization of IP management practices within higher education with a view to enhancing university-industry collaborations and contributing to economic and social development.

What an IP policy seeks to achieve

The main goals of an IP policy are to:

  • Provide legal certainty;
  • Promote scientific research and technological development;
  • Encourage researchers to consider the possible opportunities for exploiting an invention in order to increase the flow of benefits to society;
  • Provide an environment that supports and encourages innovation and development;
  • Balance the various competing interests of universities, industry and society;
  • Ensure compliance with applicable national laws and regulations.

Further information is available at:

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