Intellectual Property Rights
Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks are the three major forms of IP rights used to manage innovation created at universities. Trade secrets are also regarded as intellectual property, but are less common in the generally open university research environment.
A patent allows the patent holder to enforce exclusionary rights to an invention for 20 years from the date of the patent application's filing. "Exclusionary" means that a patent does not give someone the right to practice the invention they have patented—instead, it gives them the right to exclude others from practicing it.
To be granted a patent, an invention must be judged by the applicable government's patent office to be new, novel and non-obvious. It is worth noting that patent law and what qualifies as patentable do not always align with great science: some inventions are unpatentable by law despite having won the Nobel Prize!
In a university setting, patents can serve different purposes. University innovations are often very early-stage, and benefit from further development before being moved into the public sphere. At UO, our mission is to encourage and accelerate that development by connecting with existing companies, new ventures and other entities that have the capacity to invest the time and research needed to bring early-stage innovations to the marketplace.
The 20-year time period of exclusivity provided by a patent provides a key competitive edge for these companies, as it allows them to develop and recoup their investment in the technology. When considering patentable innovations it is important to connect with industry or form a new venture early on to take advantage of the time window for adoption, and to avoid asserting patent rights against companies that may have adopted the technology in the marketplace.
Patenting also ensures that materials and methods developed are disclosed to the public along with academic publication and made available for use by other academic institutions. Patenting or trademarking an innovation that involves a technique or method will also protect the method, by defining the proper mode of practice and standardizing the technique. This is especially important in areas where interoperability and standards are essential concerns, such as with computers, cell phones or the Internet.
If you have an invention, discovery or technology and would like to discuss the possibility of IP protection, or if you have any other questions about patents, please contact Technology Transfer Services. Because patent rights can be diminished or lost if a public disclosure is made prior to filing an application, we encourage you to contact us before disclosure occurs and we will work with your timeline to file.
For an in-depth discussion of the rights conferred by patents, trademarks and copyright, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
Copyright, like patent law, is exclusionary, but rather than ideas, it applies to the use of "original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression". A central tenet of copyright is that authors should have the right to reasonably control the use of their creative output and to receive appropriate recognition for their contribution. Copyright exists upon the creation of an eligible work—you do not have to do anything to obtain it.
Creating a license or simple permission for the use of copyrighted work is a way to reserve rights and grant permissions consistent with how you want your work to be used or modified. It is important, however, to be aware of "fair use" if your work is used without a license, or if you wish to use someone else's copyrighted works.
The Copyright Clearance Office, part of Printing & Mailing Services, can assist with copyright questions related to class materials.
Another helpful resource is the Creative Commons website, which has a number of short videos that explain the utility of licenses for copyrighted material. The Stanford University and the University of Chicago websites also provide extensive reviews and discussion of copyright issues.
If you are considering creating or have created a copyrighted work (book, manual, software, video, photographs, etc.) in the course of your academic research and wish to discuss your goals for the use of the material, the staff at Technology Transfer is available to help you explore the available options.
Many projects or organizations at the University of Oregon have identifiers such as logos, trademarks, or unique names related to their activities. We are happy to work with you to strategize on when or whether to file for a federally registered U.S. trademark, service mark, or certification mark. Often it is not necessary to file for a federal mark initially but better to rely on United States common law rights—identifiers often change early in a project and you may not immediately know which identifiers are central to the public's identification with your work.