Inventions, Intellectual Property, Copyright, and the Office of Tech Transfer
Intellectual property (IP) includes patents, copyright, trademarks, and technical know-how. The creators or owners of intellectual property are legally entitled to protect their property from unauthorized use. The University’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) assists researchers in protecting innovations developed at the University of Idaho. OTT helps faculty to develop strategies for preserving their intellectual property (IP) of valuable ideas in light of publication and grant-application plans. In addition, OTT consults with faculty on other IP-related questions. They administer the University’s royalty-distribution policy, sign confidential disclosure agreements and material transfer agreements and patent documents.
OTT is responsible for the commercialization of new inventions, works of authorship and other creative outputs of University faculty, staff, and students. If you have an idea for a technology that you think might be patentable or otherwise protectable, for example through copyright protection, contact OTT and fill out an invention disclosure form, available on the OTT website. Examples of patentable items include new and useful processes, products or materials; new and useful improvements of, or original and ornamental designs for manufactured articles; and distinctive new plant varieties.
When OTT receives an invention disclosure, they typically first look at whether it may viably be commercialized. OTT considers what, if any, other products and/or similar patents may exist and may be considered market barriers to the technology. They assess whether a need exists for the invention and whether it is “better, faster and/or cheaper.” OTT will also solicit early feedback from potential licensees and end-users in that technology “space.” In most cases, if the technology is determined to have commercial potential, OTT will then work with the creator or owner to seek IP protection and develop a licensing strategy to transfer the technology to the public sector where its benefits can best be utilized.
In order to be eligible for patent protection, United States patent law requires that an invention be:
- New or novel. The invention must be demonstrably different from publicly available ideas, inventions, or products (so-called “prior art”). This does not mean that every aspect of an invention must be novel. For example, new uses of known processes, machines, compositions of matter, and materials are patentable. Incremental improvements on known processes may also be patentable.
- Useful. The invention must have some application or utility or be an improvement over existing products and/or techniques.
- Non-Obvious. The invention cannot be obvious to a person of “ordinary skill” in the field. Non-obviousness usually is demonstrated by showing that practicing the invention yields surprising, unexpected results.
Copyright is a narrow, specific form of intellectual property protection that protects only the fixed embodiment of an idea, not the idea itself. A copyrightable work must be an original work, set down in a tangible or fixed form. Copyrightable works include traditional written works and other forms such as videotapes, film, music, and paintings. Computer software can also be protected through copyright. The courts have ruled that such protection extends to the literal sequence of instructions; the structure, sequence and organization of the instructions; instruction sets and command languages; and, to some extent, the “look and feel” of a user interface. Copyright protection gives authors five exclusive rights:
- the right to reproduce the work
- the right to prepare derivative works based on the original
- the right to distribute copies to the public
- the right to perform the work publicly
- the right to display the work publicly
3. Copyright notices
Although copyright notices on works first published after March 1, 1989 are optional, the University recommends strongly that authors include a notice of copyright on all works intended for publication. The notice should include the author's or copyright owner's name, the year in which the work is first published, and either the © symbol or the word “copyright.” Variations of proper copyright notices, in order of preference, include:
- © 2010 John Doe. All Rights Reserved.
- Copyright 2010 John Doe. All Rights Reserved.
- Copr. 2010 John Doe. All Rights Reserved.
For works owned by the University, the words “University of Idaho” should be substituted for the author's name (for example: © 2010 University of Idaho. All Rights Reserved.). The year given in the copyright notice should not be changed each time the work is printed or published unless significant new original material has been added. In that case, both the date of the revision and the original date should be cited. Concerning copyright notices for computer program code: the lack of an ASCII character for the “©” symbol may cause certain foreign countries to deny recognition of the notice. Use of a “(c)” symbol may be sufficient in such cases, if care is taken to label the media containing the software—as well as any documentation—with the conventional “©” notation.
4. University of Idaho employment agreement concerning patents and copyrights
All faculty and research staff – including graduate and undergraduate students – must complete an Employment Agreement Regarding Intellectual Property before undertaking sponsored research. Please refer to section 5400 of the Faculty Staff Handbook (FSH). By signing this form, a researcher agrees to abide by the University’s policies regarding copyrights, protectable discoveries and other intellectual property rights.
This policy ensures compliance with relevant University and federal rules, including the obligation to report promptly any new inventions or discoveries and to assign ownership to the University as required by the terms of the sponsored research agreement. A signed Employment Agreement allows the University, at its expense, to pursue patent prosecution on behalf of the PI and/or researcher, and signals the concurrence of the researcher with the terms of University policy as contained in FSH 5300 regarding copyrights, protectable discoveries and other intellectual property rights. By signing the agreement, faculty, staff, non-employee students and visitors participating in university research activities are allowed to participate in the University’s patent/copyright income distribution program while protecting the interests of faculty, staff, students, and the university.