IP & Patents: Frequently Asked Questions
- What is intellectual property (IP)?
Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind. This can include inventions (typically covered by patents), creative works (including literary works, music and movies, typically covered by copyrights),
and brand names (typically covered by trademarks). IP differs from tangible assets, such as cars, computers or land.
What is a patent?
Generally speaking, patents protect inventions. An issued patent allows the owner of the patent to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention.
Patents are granted by the government, typically on a country-by-country basis, in exchange for full disclosure of the invention. The term of patent protection can vary
but it is typically about 20 years from the date that a patent application was first filed. Patents often cover devices, but they can also address processes, algorithms and biological or chemical entities.
Why do patents matter to a university?
Patents grant exclusivity of an invention. This, in turn, provides incentive to companies and/or individuals to invest in the ideas protected by the patents. It is very common for
inventions that come out of research labs to require significant further development before
they can reach the market. Thus, investment is needed. If competitors could just steal the idea
once a product is developed and launched, then it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to get anyone to invest in the further development of the idea in the first place. Thus, patent
protection may be a prerequisite for many university inventions to ever be realized
outside of the lab. As a public university,
Auburn endeavors to see inventions realized for
Who owns patents that are generated by university research?
Further, patent protection allows universities to license inventions, which can bring revenue back
to the university. Some of that revenue is then shared with the inventors under university policy.
Ownership and disposition of patents and other intellectual property generated at the university are determined by Auburn's Patent Policy, federal law (when applicable) and agreements with
outside parties (when applicable). Generally speaking, inventions generated by research done at the university are owned by the university.
How can I protect patent rights?
For more information on University policies as they relate to patents and copyrights, please consult the Inventor's FAQ.
To receive patent protection, a patent application must at some point be filed. To protect patent rights in most international countries, such a patent application must be filed
before the first public disclosure of the technology. If this is not done, then patent rights for most of the world will be lost. The United States and a few other countries offer
a one year grace period. However, it is still preferred to file a patent application before the first public disclosure.
What constitutes a "public disclosure" that can affect patent rights?
The Office of Technology Transfer can assist with this process. You may contact us with questions or submit an invention disclosure
form to our office. Please allow as much time as possible before a public disclosure to submit an invention to allow us the time to properly address your needs.
A public disclosure is any "fully enabling" description of an invention that is provided to the public. In academic situations, this most often relates to journal publications and conference presentations.
However, keep in mind that journal publications publish online first, sometimes even before uncorrected proofs are received. There are many ways in which inventions can be publicly disclosed, including:
How do I disclose an invention to the University??
All of these can adversely affect patent rights if proper steps are not taken in advance. For university-owned patents, which will typically be the case for research-based inventions, disclosure
within the university is not generally considered a public disclosure.
- Journal publications (online and print)
- Conference presentations
- Abstracts submitted to conferences (often published online as soon as they are submitted)
- Doctoral theses, which are typically published online
- Abstracts of federally funded proposals; typically the entire proposal can be requested under FOIA
- Presentations given to or electronic/written materials provided to people outside the university
- Any other online publication, including posting to an online forum or placing something on your lab website
The Office of Technology Transfer supports public dissemination of academic works. But we do request that you work with us in advance of such publications if you think you may have a potentially patentable
invention. If you are planning to disclose the invention to an outside party outside of standard publication routes, such as to an outside company to gauge their potential interest, then that can be done
under a confidentiality agreement. OTT manages those agreements as well.