For context, at a US-based institute there is a typical business-like policy stating intellectual property developed by faculty is owned by the institute. Likewise, faculty are required to submit disclosures of their work before public release as to not interfere with the ability to patent such novel ideas. This can clearly create some backlog and difficulty in publishing work, but is also a concern for academics that do not want to commercialize their ideas but instead allow them to be free for the 'public good'.

Are there examples where universities have created specific policies that allow faculty to make the decision on, for example, making an algorithm and code open source without disclosure?

Another way to consider the question if this is more common than I can find; what are the most open policies for faculty decision making in the ability to put ideas in the public domain without first disclosing to the university?

  • 2
    I was never bound by such IP constraints, actually. I owned what I built.
    – Buffy
    Aug 17, 2020 at 20:13
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    @Buffy I understand the anonymity aspect of answering this now, but one example is UofM techtransfer.umich.edu/for-inventors/policies/… "Intellectual Property made (e.g., conceived or first reduced to practice) by any person, regardless of employment status, with the direct or indirect support of funds administered by the University (regardless of the source of such funds) shall be the property of the University". MIT has same language tlo.mit.edu/learn-about-intellectual-property/mit-ip-policies
    – 001001
    Aug 17, 2020 at 22:28
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    Yes, I know it happens, but it isn't universal.
    – Buffy
    Aug 17, 2020 at 23:01
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    OT: Why should an employer not have the right to own IP created by an employee performing their expected duties?
    – user2768
    Aug 18, 2020 at 14:51
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    @user2768 I'm not necessarily arguing they shouldn't, just asking for examples where they don't (and as you can see from Buffy comment this does happen), but some reasons could be; universities receive public funding to benefit the public where corporations may not have this obligation, faculty (employee) job requirements (KPI) involve publications in which the requirement of disclosures could directly conflict
    – 001001
    Aug 18, 2020 at 15:19

3 Answers 3


The University of Illinois (where I am a faculty member) classifies most written faculty work as "traditional academic copyrightable works", and by explicit policy all such works are owned by their authors. If their creation requires university resources "over and above those usually and customarily provided", then by default the university gets a royalty-free non-exclusive license, but even that requirement is routinely waived.

My university also supports faculty releasing their software under open-source licenses. In principle, any code developed with the support of a research grant requires university approval before it can be released, but in practice, faculty routinely publish their research code without prior approval (or censure) from the university. I can see the possibility of a dispute arising if a piece of code were patentable, but the last time I remember the university wielding that particular hammer with any force, the NCSA Mosaic authors left (middle fingers high in the air) to found Netscape.

I have never felt any pressure to ask anyone's permission to publish an algorithm or source code. (My first-order research area is algorithms.)

  • I think it would be nice to name in the answer the institution you're talking about? Sep 18, 2020 at 1:11
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    @DanielR.Collins Done!
    – JeffE
    Sep 20, 2020 at 7:23

In Sweden, faculty and researchers at universities personally own the copyright to the research and teaching materials they produce. This rule (called lärarundantaget, the "teachers' exception" to the automatic transfer of copyright to the employer that is the rule in other industries) is stipulated by law, not by the policies of individual universities.

  • 4
    Hurray for Sweden. Three (at least) cheers.
    – Buffy
    Aug 18, 2020 at 15:01

I've worked under contracts (at University College London and the University of Cambridge) specifying that I would retain any copyrights I generated in the course of my work, but the university would get any design rights and patentable inventions. I've also worked under a contract (at the University of Plymouth) specifying that I would retain the copyright in any article for publication that I wrote, but the university would get any other copyrights and any design rights and patentable inventions.

IIRC, in at least two of the three cases (and possibly all three), the contracts promised that, in connection with any patentable invention of my creation, the university wouldn't apply for a patent without my permission.

Edited a couple of days later to add: at the University of Cambridge, faculty-level staff are allowed to refuse to sign the standard contract of employment, instead merely signing a declaration that they 'will well and faithfully discharge all the duties of the office'. One of the reasons faculty might exercise this option is traditionally said to be to protect IP they create from falling into the ownership of the university. However, it occurs to me now that this would actually be counter-productive, because refusing to sign the standard contract would bring into play the default position in sections 11(2) and 215(3) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and section 39 of the Patents Act 1977, which actually give the university more control and the individual faculty member less control than the standard contract.

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