I work with professor from my college and it seems like we are close to invention, so he said me to collaborate with his old friend and patent it. All amount of work was divided between us unequally. Idea belongs to my professor and he did some minor measurement, I've done about 90% of work, including writing text of patent itself, while his friend has no idea about the thing or process and simply gives obvious advices, such as "search for other similar patents and use them as reference" and "you should be comfortable with these topics" (Oh, thank you very much, I never would have guessed without your advice).

Just out of interest, I've searched for all professor's patents and found out one weird thing: each patent has four names (his, his friend's, his student's, who did all the work, and his daughter's). I can't say something bad about her because I don't even know her. The reason is: she has never even been at this college, studying many miles away and having nothing in common with all these researches. I know some of his students, and they definitely have never worked with her.

I feel disappointed and kind of cheated: it's pretty hard for me to know that his friend will share with me this invention, and even harder to know that I will have another "co-author" which I don't even know. His friend, at least, read the text of patent; I doubt that she knows about this research, by the way. I can't refuse now, because all work is done and, besides, I can't change supervisor during this year, at least. I feel like if I would try to protect myself in this situation, he would simply tell that she did some amount of work (and definitely he would be mad at me). What can I do now?

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    My impression is that if there are at least two people on a patent, it isn't going to matter much if there are more than 2 for any CV purposes. This could vary depending on your specific area. So as distasteful as this may feel, it isn't likely to have a large impact. Are you concerned about the longer-term potential monetary issues?
    – JoshuaZ
    Dec 24, 2018 at 18:16
  • Why are supervisors so helpful and altruistic?
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 24, 2018 at 19:08
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    Authorship fraud on patents is a much more serious business than on academic publications and can carry some significant legal implications. See here for a (US-related) example. In particular the patent will be legally invalid if the inventors are not reported correctly, making it economically worthless. Thus the professor is not only cheating the patent office, he is potentially cheating you out of a financially valuable asset.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2018 at 19:23
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    Are you sure you want to be discussing this kind of fraud from an account associated with your real name?
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2018 at 19:25
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    @Buffy no one would need to challenge the patent to make it worthless. Simply, any third party who wants to use the invention and is aware that one of the named inventors did not actually participate can proceed with freely using it without paying royalties to the inventors, knowing that if it ever came to a lawsuit they could establish easily that the patent is invalid. So the patent may be worthless right from the get-go, except as resume-padding.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2018 at 23:22

1 Answer 1


This is one of those situations that has an obvious, but unsatisfactory, solution. The supervisor has power over you and can wield it to your disadvantage. I suggest that you just let it ride without complaint. I know it isn't fair, but, as a student you have little recourse or power to change things.

Know that if you let it go you will get a good, if not perfect, outcome, and that you won't always be "under the thumb" of your supervisor. But having your name on a patent is a positive thing, no matter the rest.

But he can make if very unpleasant for you if you object. As other questions here suggest this is unfortunately a moderately common issue.

Treat it as a learning experience and if you make a career in Academia, don't do this sort of thing. And if you wind up with some "power" there, work to assure it doesn't happen in the future, but you have little power now.

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