Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Working in Europe | Intellectual Property Rights | United Kingdom

If you perform research which could lead to a patentable or exploitable invention or discovery, you need to know about Intellectual Property Rights in the UK.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property (IP) is a term given to ideas or other creative or innovative subject matter. An individual can own the rights to a certain piece of IP and thus control its use, or in some cases benefit from its application. There are four main types of IP:

  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Designs
  • Copyright

There are also other types of IP, such as trade secrets or the rights of plant breeders to register new plant varieties. You can find out more about the different types of IP on the government UK Intellectual Property Office.

Who owns Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)?


Some types of IPR are owned automatically, as in the case of copyright, where the creators of a piece of literature, music, art or film automatically own the copyright to their material. For other types of IP the issue of who owns the rights could be more complicated.


In the case of patents, this depends upon the situation in which the discovery or invention was made.

If a researcher or student produces a potentially patentable or exploitable invention or discovery during their work at an institute or university, in most cases their employer would own the intellectual property rights. This means that the employer would assume the responsibility for gaining the IPR, and receive any benefits arising from these.

However, many universities and institutes have revenue sharing or other policies to recognise and reward staff and students who perform research which produces IP-related revenue.

What about collaborations between universities and businesses?

Issues may arise when research in a university is performed in partnership with another external organisation or sponsor, but in general the rights to any IP will be agreed at the onset of the research.

In response to the growing trends in collaboration between universities and businesses, a set of model agreements for this have been made available, which could be used at the outset of any collaboration, and make it clear who owns and has the right to exploit any IP arising from the research. In addition to this, as any knowledge regarding IP could be potentially exploitable, employees and students must keep secret any confidential information to which they have access as an employee or student of the university.

Do I have to pay tax on income from IP?

Extra income generated through IP is taxable. However, if this is paid through the university, they will probably deduct tax and national insurance contributions from the sum before paying you.

For useful information about the rights of university students and staff, regarding Intellectual Property, visit the Intellectual Property Office.

External links

The British Library Business and IP Centre can offer advice on IPs.

Read the Guide for Innovators and Designers for further information on IPs.