As an incoming Ph.D. student I was asked to sign an intellectual property assignment agreement in addition to an employment contract as a condition for receiving a tuition reduction and a stipend. The wording was rather vague, and contained 'legalese'. I have no experience with this. So, I do not know anything about it, and I do not know if the "agreement" I signed contains anything abnormal, because of the way it was written.

Is this normal practice?

If so, what is contained in a standard intellectual property agreement?

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    Google started as a project of two Stanford grad students, and Stanford got a share of the stock. Presumably this is the purpose of this agreement -- in case you start the next Google. – Anonymous Aug 20 '14 at 20:50
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    Most universities make their policies public (sometimes as part of a student or employee handbook), including IP policies, so with a little research you can probably find the policies of a variety of universities, and get a sense of what is standard. – Nate Eldredge Aug 20 '14 at 21:05
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    It's a bit hard to answer your question, since your description of "rather vague obligations" is, sorry, rather vague. That said, this sounds like the kind of IP assignment you will need to sign when you start any kind of job, too. Neither companies nor universities are keen on your inventing something cool on their dime, without them getting a part of the action. – Stephan Kolassa Aug 20 '14 at 21:44
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    That "to assist in perfecting and protecting its rights to such property" is most likely innocuous (no legal advise here!), as it (most likely) merely requires that you not passively obstruct the university's getting its share of stuff you produce on its dime. – paul garrett Aug 20 '14 at 23:14
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    @paulgarrett: That's probably the main thing. But I would guess that, for instance, if you invent something at the university, and they patent it (maybe jointly with you), and then years later someone challenges the patent, they might invoke this part of the contract to get you to come and testify about the work you did on it. I'm not a lawyer, etc, #include <stddisclaimer.h> – Nate Eldredge Aug 21 '14 at 0:26

Very roughly, at the US universities I have worked for, the IP policies have been along these general lines:

  • When you write a paper or book as part of your research, you get to keep the copyright and any royalties. But the university gets permission to use the work internally, keep a copy in the library, etc.

  • If, as part of your research, you invent something that's patentable, contact the university's IP office. They will help you with the patent process. You and the university will hold the patent together, or some similar arrangement. They have to agree on any licensing agreements, etc (where you sell some company the rights to use your patent), and they get a large share (perhaps half or so) of whatever royalties or fees are earned.

(I'm a pure mathematician, and we never invent anything patentable, so I always skim the patent part and may have got it wrong :-)

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    RSA was invented by 3 pure mathematicians, right? – Lyndon White Aug 21 '14 at 1:16
  • @Oxinabox: The distinctions are not always clear, but Rivest, Shamir and Adleman all have PhDs in computer science rather than mathematics. While I'm sure pure mathematicians would be honored to count them among our ranks, I don't know that they would see themselves that way. Also, although the RSA algorithm was patented in the US, there was a lot of controversy as to whether the patent was properly granted, and in fact it apparently was not able to be patented elsewhere. If the patent had not expired when it did, it might well have been challenged. – Nate Eldredge Aug 21 '14 at 1:31
  • (But despite my serious defense above, that remark was mainly meant as a joke - hence the smiley.) – Nate Eldredge Aug 21 '14 at 1:32
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    Rivest, Shamir and Adleman all have PhDs in computer science — Specifically, in theoretical computer science. So yes, they are (or at least were) pure mathematicians. – JeffE Aug 21 '14 at 3:13
  • Thanks for the extra in formation. I am pleased to become more educated. – Lyndon White Aug 21 '14 at 4:07

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