Student Intellectual Property - Faculty Guidance

Ownership of the intellectual property (IP) rights of what is created, invented or discovered by students

The advent of heightened interest around the issue of ownership of the intellectual property (IP) rights of what is created, invented or discovered by students has created a much more complex situation on the part of students, faculty and providers of sponsorship and case studies.  The issues revolve around the following questions on IP ownership:

  1. What if the student makes an invention in a course they are taking?
  2. Are grad students different from undergraduate students?
  3. What if an undergrad works "for free" in a University laboratory to gain experience?
  4. What about student interns, both at Penn State and at other institutions?
  5. What about undergraduate theses?
  6. What about situations where students develop design changes or problem solving in case-based learning on problems submitted by companies?

To deal with these challenges, and to create a practical and comprehensive policy, the forms detailed under Special Student Intellectual Property Policies and Agreement Forms have been developed.

As a simple summary of the principal points underlying the forms:

  1. If any student, grad or undergrad, taking any course for credit develops IP, the IP belongs to the student and an IP assignment agreement is not required
    • no matter who paid for the course
    • not including "research courses" for graduate theses
    • without regard for whether they are graduate students or undergraduates
  2. If graduate students are doing any research in a University facility, all IP belongs to the University and an IP assignment agreement is required
  3. If undergraduate students are working in a "scientific" lab
    • if they are paid for the work, the IP belongs to University
    • if they are doing it in a for-credit course, the IP is theirs
    • if they are working for "experience", and they do not sign an IP assignment agreement, the IP will be theirs
  4. If students develop IP in solving project in a "for credit" course using case-based learning based on externally-submitted (company, institute, or non-profit) problems
    • the IP belongs to the students if there is no agreement to the contrary
    • if sponsors want to retain IP rights, they need to have students assign their IP rights by signing an appropriate agreement
    • it is the student's choice to participate in projects requiring them to assign their rights
    • students must have a "non assignment" option in every course
  5. Summer students/interns at Penn State and Penn State students at other  institutions need to sign the appropriate IP agreement for the host institution
  6. For required senior theses, or seminar with a research component, the student must have available an option that allows them to retain their IP
  7. Medical, law and MBA students retain their IP rights so that faculty must be cognizant of which projects require IP protection in their assignments
  8. For "works for art", including poetry, sculpture, graphic arts, painting, etc., all rights rest with the creator unless there is some specific agreement/contract which designates the effort as a "work for hire"
  9. If a company sponsors student research in connection with a "for credit" course, they need to be aware that the results generated
    • are provided "as is" with no legal representations
    • are not the work of the University
    • need to be identified as student research performed
    • without independent evaluation
    • require approval in writing before publication