The big IP question: How well do students understand intellectual property?
“Without IP knowledge, it is likely that interns and graduates will miss opportunities to protect valuable ideas”
University students are constantly encouraged to be creative and to come up with new and innovative ideas, but are they being taught the value of their ideas and how to protect them?
Intellectual property (IP) knowledge is important not only for law students learning how to inform others about the value and management of IP but for individuals studying business, engineering and technology.
In one study, only 4% of NUS’s student sample had received information about IP before a work placement. Without IP knowledge, it is likely that interns and graduates will miss opportunities to protect valuable ideas. They are also at risk of their ideas being exploited by companies.
In a bid to contribute to solving this issue, the Intellectual Property Office launched an online hub back in 2015. The hub provides schools and colleges with free access to teaching resources aimed at helping students learn about IP.
For international students and graduates to be clued up on the importance of IP, universities might consider integrating it into the curriculum. Currently, very few students receive any information at all about IP during their courses. A study by the Intellectual Property Awareness Network reveals that when asked whether IP had ever been referred to during their education, 69% of participating students said ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’. The study also revealed:
- 68% of UK students expect to be involved in creative activities involving IP at university
- 46% of students do not know who to consult for IP advice
- 14% of students do not know how to protect their idea
When it comes to teaching students about IP, many universities and lecturers probably do not know where to start, especially when it comes to educating international students. Teachers and lecturers may not know if the rules and regulations differ from country to country. They may also worry that they are giving students incorrect information. While there are many different aspects to look at, the most important are: the different types of IP; cost of IP; how to monetise it.
“When it comes to teaching students about IP, many universities and lecturers probably do not know where to start”
Companies also have a responsibility to put IP at the forefront of their business. A company’s business plan should align with its IP strategy, and that includes everything from the brand name itself – which should be registered as a trademark – to other aspects of the business.
It is important to remember that IP protection is about protecting a company’s assets.
Start-ups often employ student software developers or graphic designers because it means companies get low-cost labour and students can benefit from working on real industry projects. Before they begin work, organisations often ask interns to sign non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements as it is unlikely students will create IP during their internship. However, if interns do develop IP and legal ownership is not transferred, ideas are potentially their own and the company cannot profit from them.
Academic and business leaders have long argued that countries need a larger, more technologically-savvy workforce to maximise economic growth. Universities should consider the importance of teaching IP in the curriculum when preparing graduates to be productive citizens of the innovation economy. Given the importance of IP in today’s global economy, IP ownership and management needs to be given more emphasis in future university graduate programmes.
About the author: Haydn Evans is SVP Product Marketing and Strategy at CPA Global, a leading Intellectual Property management and intellectual property technology company.