I have recently shared a video on LinkedIn about a project I was involved in while working as a part-time Research Assistant. Besides this project, I have a number of other robots that might be commercialized.

Having shared this video, I received several messages asking whether this robot will be soon on the market or whether we have an early adopter program.

This is something we have not even remotely considered. Can a product that has been developed in University be conceptualized or made commercially available by the University or the Research laboratory?

I know some people that started a company and turned their PhD research into a startup. But this is not something I am considering. In this case, the University is the owner of the product that has been developed and we are not allowed to take anything outside the campus.

If I invent something while I am working in the domain of the University, can revenue be created by selling this product?

2 Answers 2


The answer - at least in the US - is pretty well always "yes", it just depends on who has to sign off on the legal agreements and what they want in exchange for doing so.

The most common path is that institutions will have some equivalent of an intellectual property office, which handles legal agreements, licenses, royalties, etc. Most big institutions now have a requirement that staff must report any potentially valuable IP to them so they can protect and/or sell it and/or disavow it as it pleases them.

In R1 institutions, this isn't a rare thing - it's big business, with many regularly bringing in tens of millions or more in yearly revenue agreements.

However, in general Universities won't directly sell products. Instead, they will license out the tech to whoever wants to do business. It is common even for institutions to offer exclusive licenses to their own students/faculty to develop companies, provide seed funding grants, offer placement in incubators, and provide the licenses in such a way that there are no up-front costs and money is only owed back to the institute once revenue has gone beyond some threshold (often a few hundred thousand USD, but YMMV).

The big complexity is generally in how the project was funded and what the IP agreements everyone almost inevitably signed somehow indicates. Contracts where the government was involved in granting can get a bit more complicated, but generally the whole system has grown to be very accommodating in favor of people finding a way to bring more money into the system. Go figure.

Of course, a University rarely if ever sell the products in any kind of direct relationship. Instead there is a system of licensing and so on that moves that over to private companies, with the institution getting a piece of the action.

Some systems are more generous than others (and others more aggressive in claiming ownership over as much as possible), so you'll need to check with your local intellectual property office if you are interested in knowing more precisely how things work in your neck of the woods.


The first two answers here give generally valid advice, but don't mention patents and patent law. You can monetize any idea unless someone else holds a patent and you don't have a license to use it. So, for things that can be patented (inventions) it is generally a good, if expensive and time consuming, idea to do so.

Many universities have, in their general rules, a claim to be able to patent, in the University name, anything invented there. This may apply to you or not. The rule is a mixed blessing/curse since it is expensive to obtain a patent and lawyers are required. But the university, while holding the patent, may either give you a license for things you invent, or separately license the invention and share proceeds with the inventor. But you need to check to see if you have implicitly agreed to this in your employment contracts.

The same might be true of funding agencies, but the rules will vary and they will/should be explicit in contracts. If you anticipate inventing things it is good to work out the details before you start if that is at all possible.

One can, of course, monetize an idea without a patent (unless someone else holds one). You can, with certain actions, put the invention into the public domain, making it unpatentable. Then anyone can monetize it. Much of the internet is like that, since the invention was generally US government funded and so, for most things, the public owns the result.

But, I'm not a lawyer, and so what I say is tentative, and perhaps a bit conservative, so you don't get into trouble. As BrianH says, see your university research or IP office for help and advice. They normally employ the necessary experts and can assist you. But, don't assume that you "own" and invention just because you invented it. Patent isn't very much like copyright, which is automatic.

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