Guide to Intellectual Property as a Student at the University of California


As an undergraduate or graduate student at the University of California (UC),you have an opportunity to make original creations, inventions and discoveries as part of your activities both within and outside of classes.  Learning about these forms of intellectual property (IP) and how to protect and develop them is an important part of your educational experience.  Students can make original contributions in all areas of scholarship that UC supports.

Go for it! UC encourages you to test the limits of possibility.  And, this guide can help you navigate questions about IP.

Intellectual property is generally defined as intangible creations of the mind, which may be protected under patent, copyright and/or trademark laws.

  • Inventions that can be protected by patent law include new or improved versions of processes, machines, and compositions of matter that are useful; and new, distinct plant varieties. To protect an invention under patent law, in addition to being useful, the invention must be novel and not an obvious extension of something that already exists.  One or more inventors may contribute to the conception of the invention.  Students can make inventions as part of their coursework or original scholarship at UC.
  • Works of authorship fixed in any tangible form of expression may be protected under copyright law. These may include literary works, sound recordings, computer software, photographs, motion pictures, and musical compositions among others.  For example, students can create copyrightable works when they (co-)publish an article or create a smartphone application.
  • A trademark is “any work, name, symbol, or device…” used by a person “to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.&;

Intellectual property and ownership are very case specific based on each set of circumstances; your campus technology transfer office (TTO) would make the final determination. Below are general examples to guide you in thinking about your IP obligations.

When does the University own IP?

In most cases, students who are not employed by UC own their original academic work. Under law and policy, UC owns IP made by UC employees in the course and scope of their work. When University gift/grant/contract funds, resources, or research facilities are used, UC may also own the resulting IP. If you are unsure whether the University could have an ownership interest in your IP, please contact your campus TTO for clarification.

When you’ve created intellectual property, here are some questions to ask

  • Was I doing a job for the University?
  • Was I in a research lab or using a special resource that is not available to all students in my field?
  • Was I getting paid to work on a research project?
  • Was I receiving funds from the University other than financial aid?
  • Was I collaborating with other researchers or faculty on campus?

UC probably owns it

I probably own it

I invented a camera using special equipment in my professor’s lab

I invented new earbuds in my garage

I wrote a report for my professor’s federally-funded  science project

I wrote a journal article for a class assignment

I created software under a University sponsored project

I created a new smartphone app at home

I invented a new cancer treatment in a UC lab using stem cells from a commercial source

I created a new bicycle gear in my dorm room