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Intellectual Property at Virginia Tech

Generation of intellectual property is one expected outcome of research and creative scholarship conducted at universities. It is to the benefit of the universities, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and society to assure that these new discoveries and ideas are further developed and made available for the general good of the public in the best way possible. To that end, Virginia Tech has established policies and procedures relating to ownership, use, management, and compensation for intellectual properties created with Virginia Tech resources.


What is intellectual property?

Intellectual Property, or IP, is the group of intangible assets consisting of knowledge and ideas. It is the property people create or invent. Intellectual property can be in many forms such as an invention, journal article, software program, book, formula, process, or sound recording. Generally, four very different kinds of rights are included: patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets. These four main IP rights are often confused but are quite distinct. Patents and trade secrets protect the substance of ideas while copyrights and trademarks protect the form in which ideas are fixed.

  • Patents ? the right to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, selling an invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. Patents are regulated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Copyrights ? the right to prevent others from copying the form of the creation. It is the expression of the idea that is protected. Copyrights are regulated by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
  • Trademarks (or Servicemarks) - any work, name, symbol, or device, adopted and used by a merchant or service provider to identify his goods or services and distinguish them from those of others. Trademarks and servicemarks are regulated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Trade secrets ? a secret formula, pattern, device, or compilation of information known only to certain persons who use it to give them a competitive business advantage. Trade secrets are primarily regulated by state laws. There is no process or procedure such as patenting or registration. Trade secrets are maintained by non-disclosure; the information must be kept confidential. Trade secrets are secret.

General information can be found at the following:

  1. Patents and trademarks
  2. Copyright
  3. Trade secrets (Virginia) Word DOC (opens in a new window)

Virginia Tech's intellectual property policy

Management of intellectual property at Virginia universities and colleges is governed by federal and state laws as well as institutional policies. Virginia Tech has adopted, and the Board of Visitors has confirmed, the Policy on Intellectual Properties (Policy 13000). Policy 13000 is specific to Virginia Tech but is, in general, similar to policies of other institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the nation.

Policy 13000 establishes ownership criteria and provides a process to determine ownership of intellectual properties created by university employees or with university resources. State law requires all university employees, as a condition of employment, to be bound by this policy. The policy applies to all permanent and visiting faculty, research faculty, classified staff, wage employees, and students.

An Intellectual Property Committee (IPC), chaired by the Office of Research's Associate Vice President for Program Development, is established and given the authority and responsibility in relation to the IP policy, including the authority to promulgate such guidelines and procedures as may be necessary for the implementation of the policy and to make appropriate recommendations concerning IP matters to the Provost. Guidelines are provided for use by the IPC in resolving questions of ownership. In addition, the IPC has provided their working guidelines that represent actions and consensus of committee practices in interpreting areas of Policy 13000 which may be ambiguous or not addressed. IPC's working guidelines. Policy 13000 provides a mechanism for appeal of any ownership or other disputed issue in respect to intellectual property.

Policy 13000 establishes responsibilities of the faculty/staff to disclose intellectual property and their rights to share in revenues generated by the successful commercialization of IPs owned by the university. The institution's policy allows for an equal sharing between the university and the originators of the IP of revenues generated from intellectual properties. The policy establishes conditions and exceptions to revenue sharing. Further information and assistance in regard to disclosing IP and revenue sharing are provided by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. (VTIP), a nonprofit corporation established to manage the institution's intellectual properties.


Who owns intellectual property?

Ownership criteria and rights to intellectual properties are established in Policy 13000. General guidance on ownership under the university's IP policy is provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research in a handout, "Intellectual Property: Who Owns It?" (PDF document; opens in a new window).

Intellectual properties are frequently generated as a result of research funded by a government or private sponsor. In those cases, rights to intellectual property will be as defined in the applicable clauses of the sponsored research agreement. The Board of Visitors has authorized the Office of Sponsored Programs to negotiate the full range of sponsor rights to intellectual property depending on the best interests of all parties involved and in accordance with Policy 13000 and state laws.


Student Intellectual Property

Undergraduate and graduate students may generate intellectual properties at Virginia Tech while assisting with research or as part of a class project. For example, senior design projects required in certain engineering courses may result in copyrighted software or inventions. Likewise, undergraduates or graduates employed by the university may contribute to development of intellectual property as part of a research project.

Policy 13000 addresses a student's rights to intellectual properties he/she may generate. If the student is employed by the university, ownership will be determined by the rules which apply to all university employees. If the intellectual property is determined to be owned by the university, the student would be entitled to share in any royalties in the same manner as other university inventors.

Intellectual properties generated by students not employed by the university and not using university resources of at least $10,000 in their generation will be owned by the student. Such student owned intellectual properties would be subject to any applicable prior rights of private sector or government sponsors. For example, a private company could provide resources such as money, equipment, software, proprietary information, or technical assistance to a senior design project. Any intellectual property generated by the student would be subject to the terms and conditions of the university's agreement with that sponsor. If it is determined that the intellectual property is owned by the student, the university would always retain the right to use such intellectual properties internally at no cost.


Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Protect your ideas and work products. Disclose them to VTIP on the IP Disclosure Form at http://www.vtip.org. Employees are required to disclose all intellectual properties that have the potential for commercial utilization. Valuable patent rights may be lost if you publish your paper or otherwise disclose an invention prior to filing a patent application. File a disclosure before you publish.

Be careful about sharing your ideas. Have a confidentiality agreement in place before you talk about your ideas (see "Confidentiality Agreements," below).


Working with Industry

The university encourages collaborative research with industry. A frequent concern of businesses is the ability to secure needed rights to research results, patents and copyrights arising from their sponsored research. In most cases, issues of IP arising from industry-supported research at universities focus around balancing the interest of the sponsor, the university, inventors, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The extent to which state resources are used to support the research is an important consideration in negotiating rights to IP, as is fulfilling the mission of sharing new discoveries widely. It is not in the interest of the university to simply give away intellectual property generated by faculty, students, and staff without appropriate compensation and protection of use and publication rights. The university has the responsibility to assure the citizens of the Commonwealth that it is a good manager of our resources and that without regard to the source of funding, intellectual property produced through research is appropriately commercialized and otherwise made available to the public.

The Office of Sponsored Programs has the authority to negotiate terms and conditions under sponsored research agreements, including rights to intellectual property. The Office of Sponsored Programs has the flexibility to negotiate intellectual property terms and conditions that balance and protect the interests of all parties.

Additional information is provided at Collaborative Research with Virginia Tech, Frequently Asked Questions.


Confidentiality Agreements

In the course of discussing potential research projects or performing contracted research, it may be necessary to exchange confidential information. The university requires a nondisclosure agreement (also called a confidentiality agreement or a proprietary information agreement) to be in place before confidential information can be exchanged. While Virginia Tech is most likely to receive confidential information from sponsors or potential sponsors, we also have our own confidential information that we need to protect. For instance, our information regarding inventions and research proposals would be considered confidential. Computer software source codes are also usually treated as confidential.

The university will limit the exchange of confidential information to the minimum necessary and will comply with the terms and conditions of the confidentiality agreements. University employees are required by their employment agreements and state law to protect confidential information. The university has general policies and procedures for protecting confidential information.

If it is necessary for you to discuss information concerning an invention disclosure or ideas that you have not yet disclosed, or if you need to receive confidential information from another party, make sure you do so only after an agreement is in place for your protection. You can work with the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) to draft a nondisclosure agreement. Please complete the Request for Confidentiality Agreement (Word document; opens in a new window). This will provide information we need to draft the appropriate agreement. A nondisclosure agreement must be signed ahead of time, so plan ahead. You must read and comply with the terms of the agreement and remember to label confidential information when you provide it or it will not be protected by the agreement.

The business may have its own agreement, but we prefer to use our standard Confidentiality Agreement. You may provide that to the business. Any questions should be directed to the Office of Sponsored Programs, ospcontracts@vt.edu.

All confidentiality agreements are signed by the authorized person in the Office of Sponsored Programs. A copy of the executed agreement will be provided to you. The original signed confidentiality agreement is maintained in the OSP files.


Material Transfer Agreements

A material transfer agreement must be in place before the university can provide or receive materials for research. The university will comply with the terms and conditions of any such negotiated agreements.

The university allows the exchange of materials for research and/or commercial purposes. The university will not provide, nor receive, any materials until a material transfer agreement (MTA) is negotiated and executed. The university has standard agreements for the transfer of both biological and non-biological materials. The university can provide materials for research or commercial purposes.

You can work with the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) to draft a nondisclosure agreement. Please complete the Request for Material Transfer Agreement (Word document; opens in a new window). This will provide information needed to draft the appropriate agreement. Any questions should be directed to the Office of Sponsored Programs at ospcontracts@vt.edu.


Open Source Software

Open source software is computer software where the source code is made available under a copyright license that permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.

Using open source software: University researchers sometimes utilize open source software in research activities. Most of these open source licenses are click-and-accept licenses. Before you click and accept, you must have legal review of the software license. There may be restrictions in the copyright license or terms or conditions that the university, as a state agency, can not accept.

There may also be cases in which you do not want to utilize open source software in your research as it could impact the intellectual property rights from your research activities. Before using open source software on a sponsored research project, we must make sure the sponsor agrees to such use. You can also obtain guidance from Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. (VTIP) on the consequences of integrating open source software with Virginia Tech software.

Creating open source software:

For software developed at Virginia Tech there are a variety of circumstances where it is desirable to make it available as open source. This is often the case with software where the primary use will be for non-commercial research and users understand that Virginia Tech assumes no responsibility for the code ? including ongoing development and support. This is the basis for Virginia Tech's Non-Commercial Purpose License. For modifications to Virginia Tech's Non-Commercial Purpose License to fit specific circumstances, contact OSP or VTIP.

Software that may have potential for commercial utilization should be disclosed to VTIP. As part of their review, VTIP will determine if open source licensing is the most appropriate means of meeting users′ needs ? often depending not only on the commercial potential but also on whether the expected user community is likely to support open source. Open source can also be the initial step in commercializing early stage software, focusing first on building a user base.


Copyright in the University Libraries

Copyright issues arise frequently in regard to use and copying of library information, books, creation of course packs, theses and dissertations and application of fair use. The University Libraries has information on Virginia Tech copyright policies as well as links to external resources.