I entirely came up with a novel idea. I did all of the research indepently. Both my supervisors want to patent the idea now. It seems that I'm getting a smaller stake in the patent according to the filing papers (they didn't talk to me about this). I own 25%, they own 37.5% each.

I can't help to feel like I'm being swindled. The university is paying for patent costs. But, I came up with the idea entirely on my own. Also, this isn't related to my main research project. I just worked on it on the side - so they didn't have much contributions towards the overall idea [actually one of them had literally ZERO contribution to the original idea and just happened to be my supervisor at the time].

Should I say something or is this common?

  • 3
    Most patents actually don't end up producing much money. If yours is one of these, you probably don't need to do anything. Aug 6, 2016 at 23:09
  • This one might generate a lot of money as the intent is to sell it. Aug 6, 2016 at 23:22
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    You probably signed an intellectual property agreement when you started working with these supervisors. That should explain what happens in this case.
    – mhwombat
    Aug 6, 2016 at 23:33
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    If there is significant money at stake, you should consult a lawyer. When applying for patents as an employee, I was told that it was essential to get the inventor list accurate - listing a non-inventor or failing to list an inventor could endanger the validity of a patent. Aug 6, 2016 at 23:43
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    @mhwombat: In my experience, intellectual property agreements are almost always signed with the university, and not with an employee's supervisors. The university may be completely unaware that the OP is being taken advantage of, and may not approve of it. Aug 7, 2016 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


You should read your university's intellectual property policy. If this matter is important to you, you should also consult a lawyer.

I think you are probably confusing the concepts of credit and ownership. The inventors get credit for creating the invention, but the owners have the right to exploit the patent. Most likely the university owns all of the patent and the inventors who are employees or students own none if it. The university may assign a portion of any profits to the inventors as an incentive. This would be entirely at the university's discretion, and would typically be described in a published policy.

  • Your last paragraph does not apply everywhere. My undergrad institution in Western Europe had a policy where inventors owned a third of the patents they produced.
    – Cape Code
    Aug 7, 2016 at 6:44
  • This is an ownership thing. Aug 7, 2016 at 14:58

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