Intellectual Property and Your Business, Inventorship, Ownership, and Copyright

by admin in Business on October 17, 2020

For many faculty start-ups, intellectual property is the business’ key asset and gives the start-up a competitive advantage. The following subsections briefly discuss intellectual property in the form of inventions and patents, as well as copyright. For a more in-depth review, please refer to the Handbook for Inventors and Innovators or talk to your Office of Technology Management (OTM).

An invention can be anything man-made that is new, useful, and non-obvious. Inventions may include, but are not limited to, processes, methods, machines, articles of manufacture, devices, chemicals, and compositions of matter. Inventions can be protected by patents. U.S. law recognizes the value of innovation to the economy and provides the owner of a patent with a time-limited monopoly (20 years) to prevent others from exploiting the invention without permission. In exchange for this exclusive right, the published patent document must fully describe the invention so that others can reproduce and learn from it. In that way, the patent monopoly provides the incentive to share advances with the public and thereby contribute to growth in the field.

Inventorship is defined by U.S. patent law. Broadly, an inventor is one who alone, or together with others, conceived of the ultimate working invention. A patent application must be filed in the names of the true inventors. The legal criterion for inventorship is not the same as that for academic authorship. Inventorship is not a reward for hard work to someone who only worked under direction. Inventorship is tied to the claims in a patent application and is determined at the time the patent application is filed. As the claims in a patent application change, so may inventorship.

Inventorship does not equal ownership. Organizations usually own the inventions developed by their employees. The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois owns University of Illinois patents, as established by Article III of the University’s General Rules.

Copyright is the form of intellectual property that protects the expression of a creative idea that is fixed in a tangible form. It is an acknowledgement of who created the work.

For example, in The Wizard of Oz, copyright protects the order of the words in the story, as well as the layout of the pictures, color, and words on the page. The ideas, plot, and characters are not protected. Each adaptation of this classic tale (book, screenplay, movie, music) generates independently copyrighted works.

For scientific writing, copyright does not protect the procedures, systems, processes, concepts, formulas, discoveries, or devices described in the work. Similarly, for software, copyright does not protect the underlying concepts, processes, systems, algorithms, program logic, or layouts.

Copyright constitutes a bundle of legal rights, which include the right to copy, display, perform, distribute, and make changes to the original copyrighted work. These altered versions of original works are known as derivative works. Copyright provides the owner with the right to determine how the work is copied and distributed to others, such as through traditional or online publication, open access, sale, lease, or lending. It also gives the copyright holder the right to charge royalties for a work’s use.

Automatic Application of Copyright Unlike patentable inventions, copyrighted works are automatically protected under U.S. copyright laws without having to undergo a formal registration process. However, it is still important to affix an appropriate copyright notice
to notify others that they are not free to utilize the work without permission. Works owned by the University should bear the following copyright notice: © 20XX The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. All rights reserved.

There is also a formal registration process to document copyright in the Library of Congress.

Author owned copyrights last for the life of the author(s) plus 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. Employer owned copyrights last for 120 years from the work’s creation or 95 years from the first publication of the work, whichever is shorter