Lancaster’s new intellectual property (IP) policy has been unveiled, effective from 1 August 2019:
Well done to Research & Enterprise Services, who have put in a lot of work to create a policy and webpage that looks very helpful for staff. Some students may not be so happy, though.
As a reminder, here’s a rough primer on IP law: when an employee creates something in the course of their employment, the thing is the intellectual property of their employer (benevolent employers may, of course, seek to share the benefits). When a student creates something in the course of their studies, the thing is the intellectual property of the student (and they decide whether to share the benefits). Attempts in the 90s to require Lancaster students to sign their IP rights over at registration led to loud and vocal protests – and a climbdown by management.
Our new policy agrees that students own what they create, but some of the ‘circumstances where the University will require the student to assign their IP’ should be raising eyebrows. In particular, we now require research students to sign over their IP rights if they have ‘received significant financial support from the University (for example stipend or fee waiver) to undertake the research.’ For the avoidance of doubt, ‘this does not include any hardship or widening participation financial support.’ Readers may wonder whether this would stand up in court, unless the University is now claiming that university-funded research students should be classed as staff – in which case surely they should be granted employment protection and pension rights?
Similarly, any student who ‘builds upon existing IP generated by University staff’ or ‘participates in a research project funded by the University’ is required to sign over their IP. This might be acceptable practice for a principal investigator taking on new research associates, but research students are not the same as postdocs.

Lancaster already has a questionable reputation for making some of its funded research students carry out teaching – for no pay and no recognition of employment rights – as a condition of funding. Will be also be known as the place where funded research students are required to sign their intellectual property rights over – again, for no pay and no recognition of employment rights? subtext hopes very much that the PG Board was consulted about this.

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