The following FAQ’s provide a brief overview of some of the most common questions that students at Oxford University have when it comes to intellectual property rights.

Should you not find the answer to your question, please take a look at some of our pages on where you can get help or feel free to get in touch with us!

I'd like to make all my work open access, I really like the ethos, is there anything I need to consider?

Knowledge for all sounds really appealing and it can be great in some circumstances, for example software released under open source licensing. However, many products need very significant investment to reach market. In the pharmaceuticals sector it can cost as much as $1.5 billion to bring a new product to market, and even in other sectors that have a lower regulatory requirement it can cost many tens of millions to develop a product, and sort out manufacturing, distribution, marketing and so on. Intellectual property rights provide a way to ensure a return on that investment.

If the work has received financial support from organisations outside the University, they may have included in their funding terms a requirement for the researchers to consider what might be the best means of achieving maximum public benefit from the research outputs before publishing.

There is a difference between open access publishing and open source licensing. Research Services have a useful advice page about open access, including open source software licensing

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What’s the best way to protect my idea?

There are a number of different forms of intellectual property rights which are useful for different purposes and situations. Intellectual property law protects the form of expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, so it depends what you’ve actually got. Some types of IP protection cost money, some are free. Some have to be applied for through a formal process, and some arise automatically. You can read more about the different types of intellectual property here and OUI can help you to work out the best route.

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How do I work out who owns the IP in my project?

You need to look at the detail of what has happened. Here are some reasons why it might not be as simple as it being ‘your idea, your IP’.

The people: You may have worked with other people – you may have thought you were bouncing ideas around, but they may think they are co-creating. They may be employees of the University, in which case the University, as their employer, may own the IP they generated.

The money: If you’ve been doing a research project within the University environment, you benefit from the funding for the research and the huge investment made by the University to provide the infrastructure and facilities you work within. Financial support for the research may have come from the Research Councils, charities, European Union, companies, or elsewhere, and the money is very likely to have been provided along with contractual obligations on the University about the IP arising from the funded work. It may have been funded directly by the University.

Other support: Did you get samples from anyone else? Maybe your collaborator at another University analysed the data, or you used clinical data from NHS colleagues.

So you need to look at the whole picture, it’s not just you. It is definitely best to think carefully about this at an early stage and OUI can help you work through it.

The IP Rights Management team within Research Services help to establish whether parties outside of the University have a claim to any rights in the intellectual property (IP) created by members of the University, by virtue of involvement in, or support for, the creation of the IP.

If you have a query related to IP ownership, please email iprm@admin.ox.ac.uk.

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When does the University own IP generated by students?

The University’s Statute on Intellectual Property describes the situations when IP generated by students is owned by the University. Those circumstances are when the IP was generated:

–          Jointly with anyone else who is subject to the IP Statute, such as University employees

–          Using University facilities or equipment (unless the terms of access for the facility or equipment provide otherwise – like in the case of the Oxford Foundry)

–          In circumstances where the IP is subject to obligations that the University owes to a third party, including obligations imposed through contracts or grants

–          Using funding received from the University, unless the terms of that funding provide otherwise.

–          Under any other contract entered into with the University, such as an employment contract, a visitor agreement or a services agreement.

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If the University does own the IP I generated, what does it mean for me?

Where the University owns IP, the individuals that generated the IP are rewarded through the revenue-sharing scheme set out in the University’s Regulations. This applies equally whether you are a student or an employee of the University. University IP is commercialised through OUI, who provide a full support and will pay any costs associated with protecting the IP.

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What are the expectations on equity in my startup?

The University’s equity policy sets out the principles which determine how the equity in a University spinout company is allocated between the University and the participating researchers and students, and it is a fact-based analysis that looks at a number of factors in relation to the new company.

If you would like to discuss how the University’s equity policy would apply in the particular circumstances of a startup that you are planning, please contact us. It is important not to be deterred by the urban myth that the University will insist upon owning half of every company, regardless of the circumstances. The policy results in a spectrum of answers that varies between 0 and an equal share between the University and the academic founders, depending on the facts.

Let’s look at two illustrative examples. The first is a proposal for a company where the founders are two undergraduate students, and the company won’t involve any University employees. There’s no University IP, the startup is unconnected with the students’ courses, they have used the Foundry but no other University facilities in developing their plans, and they are planning on doing all the hard work themselves to get the startup going over the summer break. These facts will support a very low equity share to the University – if any at all.

Another example looks very different. This time, the two spinout founders are University professors. They are permanent employees of the University who intend to stay in their University roles and will use their permitted outside appointment time for consultancy to the spinout. The spinout is in the area of their research and will exploit University IP, which was generated over a period of years through externally funded research and has been protected by OUI. They are making full use of the support available from the University for the spinout formation. These facts would put this company at the top of the spectrum, with an equal 50:50 share of founding equity between the two professors and the University.

If the University is entitled to an equity share, this will be calculated before any investment, and the University takes ordinary shares with no antidilution protection. If the company takes investment, the University’s shareholding will be diluted alongside the academic founders.  So, after the first round of investment, the University itself is likely to have a rather small shareholding.

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Do I need any permissions to start getting involved?

It’s always a good idea to talk with your tutor, supervisor or director of studies if you are going to take on a significant commitment like starting a new company. You will need their permission to take on formal outside appointments such as a directorship of a new business. You also need to manage and declare any conflicts of interest under the University’s policy.

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