I'm not aware of any PhD candidates patenting their novel work/product. Is it not ok to patent something you worked on?

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    Your contract should include regulations for these matters. In Germany (or at least Bavaria), for example, everything you do as a researcher in public office is intellectual property of the state.
    – Ian
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 12:45
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    Aha, perhaps that's why I don't see PhDs here seeking patents. Ok, I will check with legal/regulations dep. thanks
    – Rain
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 12:47
  • My contract doesn't state anything regarding patents. They do state that IP which is funded should not be a student's own only. But nothing about non funded research. I will need to ask the university
    – Rain
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 12:55
  • In my case (Canada in the 1990s) my supervisor and I offered our university the opportunity to patent the work (with our names on it), they decided not to, and we proceeded on our own.
    – iayork
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 13:54
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    I know someone who did this. But it caused great friction between them and those who had collaborated with them on various aspects of the project - to the project's detriment. So, just be careful.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 11:48

5 Answers 5


There is no generic rule that PhD students can't patent their work. When they do, usually, the university or research institution has rules about who owns the IP of what's being done in their labs. My alma mater had a 3-thirds rule where the student, the supervisor and the institution all held a third of the IP.

I don't find it particularly surprising that only few students end up patenting their work. Patents are much less useful than good scientific publications when applying for academic positions or grants. It seems normal that the focus is set on the later.

Also relevant: patenting costs money to file and money to maintain. It only makes sense to secure future sales. Students rarely have the funds for this and institutions usually prefer to spend on other things more closely related to their mission. Most of the time the decision not to patent is motivated by the low potential gain vs. costs ratio.

Universities are usually a bit generous in what they accept to file, but then eventually drop the payments later on if it's evident that the work does not bring any profit.

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    +1, in out institution the patenting rules are written in our contracts, that are actually short, ~4 pages. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 8:11
  • Could I see an example of such a contract? I was looking for a contract for Max Planck Institute before I applied to this Ph.D program; I have a particular commercial interest in their research. It doesn't have to be yours Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 7:59

This will likely vary from university to university. At Carnegie Mellon University it is very common for students (and professors) to patent their work. I suggest you talk to your department chair about how the university handles intellectual property. For what it's worth, you may be able to find information online (e.g., CMU's IP guidelines are online).


No advice on 'yes go patent it' or 'don't patent it' will suit your case.

Couple of points to think about:

  1. Location: Country, and then university and department you are in.

  2. Funding: Are you fully funded by the university, is there any clause in your contract about this?

  3. Supervision: What your supervisor(s) wants/recommends. Maybe he/she is more like to publish journals instead of dealing with patents. Maybe he/she likes the idea and supports you on this. You need to discuss this with him/her.
  4. Publications: Your previous publications, are they part of your patents? When did you submit them; and so on.
  5. IP Department: The group/department that deals with intellectual property. If your university does not have it, then can you afford a lawyer/firm to do that?
  6. Waiting time: How many years you have to spend to see if the patent goes through.
  7. Ph.D Defense: How do you defend your thesis if no publication and the best case scenario 'patent pending' situation.

So best advice would be to think about those points and talk to someone at your university that deals with IP submissions.

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    1b and 3b: did anyone talk/write about the invention in public already? Depending on your legislation, patenting may not be possible any longer as the invention is then state of the art. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 0:31

Yes, Ph.D. students can usually patent their work -- meaning that they can be one of the Inventors, or even the sole Inventor, on a patent application (if that's appropriate, and the student is the only person with intellectual contribution). That's not the issue. The issue is who is entitled to the licensing fees. That will vary from institution to institution by policy, and may also involve agreements on Sponsored Projects (which might actually preclude a patent application if the University screwed up and signed a bad document).

In many cases, the University is the assignee of the intellectual property, and doles money out to those involved. Often this is a pretty fair deal. Patents can be expensive, and if the school is willing to do the heavy lifting, that's not bad. Corporate inventors on a patent might get a hearty thank you and a small token bonus or gift.

In and of itself, publications have nothing to do with the ability to file a patent application, but are often considered to be DISCLOSURE, which starts a clock ticking -- so if a patent is a consideration, don't publish without speaking to the university intellectual property people to guide you.

Just because you CAN apply for a patent, that doesn't mean that you should, or that the patent will be granted. Talk to someone with expertise, who will work with you on a prior art search, and discuss the business case.


If you are working with industry during your Ph.D., it can be maybe of interest to do some patenting in collaboration between industry and university, but this is depending on legal matters. It can or not be possible. Usually universities are more interested by writing papers rather than patenting.

Impact factors... and so on. Reaching Nature Journal... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_factor

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