I thought of an interesting idea for a thesis for my Masters program and I think I would eventually be able to sell a product that is built from the algorithms/code that I develop for this thesis. I realize my thesis is my work and I have the copyright permissions, but I am wondering what rights I have and what rights my school has if I were to take my thesis and develop it into a product which I then sell to customers.

Would I have all rights for selling this product or since my professor is essentially guiding me and assisting me in my research, does he/she own a part of it as well? I can only seem to find answers on the internet that pertain to the copyright permissions of the actual developed thesis, not products that might be derived from such efforts, or code that was developed in tandem with writing the thesis.

Any links to proof or legal precedence would be very helpful as well.


3 Answers 3


Your institution almost certainly has a policy on this, and an office dedicated to administering it. You should consult them. If you really think this is serious, you should also consult an intellectual property attorney rather than relying on the babblings of some goofball from the Internet (e.g. me).

In the US, employees of a university are commonly required to sign an agreement that the university has an interest in any patent or other profitable invention that they develop in the course of their work. The agreement usually specifies that the royalties and other profits are to be split between the university and the inventor.

I have not heard of this being required of students, and if you had signed one, you would presumably know. However, if your advisor had a significant part in the project, he or she may have some rights in it as a matter of law (and the university in turn would get a share of your advisor's, per their agreement).

Note that it may be relevant where the funding for the project came from, and what if any financial support you received from the university.

  • 4
    In the case of PhD students, the line between employee and student is remarkably blurry. I'm not sure whether the situation is similar for Masters students. Jun 12, 2012 at 13:16
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    As a PhD student at my institution, I was definitely considered an employee. I signed a great many things, and one of them was an intellectual property / patent agreement.
    – Ben Norris
    Jun 15, 2012 at 12:51

Would I have all rights for selling this product or since my professor is essentially guiding me and assisting me in my research, does he/she own a part of it as well?

This is a very difficult and touchy question. You need to talk to your supervisor as early as possible. Many students drastically underestimate the supervisor's contribution. Starting your graduate studies with the idea is very different from developing the idea in conjunction with your supervisor.


Regardless of how the legal situation is, discuss it with you supervisor in a friendly way to figure out

  • if he wants to put stones in your way, even for the things which you legally could sell. (Even if you may win a lawsuit, financing a lawsuit before you actually sell products could be a problem)

  • if he is plainly supportive of the idea and helps you without own interest

  • if he like to give you recommendation for a company/group working on these topics

  • if he would like to create a company with you (in that case you would have continued access to the research)

  • if some technology is already patented for some applications or if parts of the materials you used were obtained under an NDA.

  • if there is a competitor (e.g. another student of his/people he knows in the field)

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