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Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)


If you conduct 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 who owns the rights could be more complicated.


In the case of patents, the IP rights depend on the situation in which the discovery or invention was made.

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

However, many universities and institutes have revenue sharing methods 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 conducted in partnership with another external organisation or sponsor, but in general the rights to any IP would have been agreed beforehand.

With the growing number of collaborations established between universities and businesses in the field of research, a set of model agreements for these instances have been made available, which could be used at the onset of any collaboration, as these make it clear who owns and has the right to exploit any IP arising from the research. In addition, as any knowledge regarding IP could be potentially exploitable, employees and students are obligated to keep confidential any information they have access to as employees or students at the university.

Do I have to pay tax on income received from IP?

Extra income generated through IP is taxable. However, if this is paid through the university, they could 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

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

Find more information on the British Library Business and IP Centre webpage or visit the British Library in London. You can also go to a local IP clinic.

You could consult a professional patent or trademark attorney.