Navigating the Intersections of Intellectual Asset Management and Graduate Education

Navigating the Intersections of Intellectual Asset Management and Graduate Education

Apr 19, 2013

Should graduate students sign confidentiality agreements before joining a lab?

Some classes involve projects with outside companies who request that participating students sign a confidentiality agreement. Should the university be responsible for signing the confidentiality agreements? Does it matter whether the class is required for a degree?

 A graduate student’s thesis includes software code co-authored with a faculty member and funded with a federal grant. The University would like to commercialize the software, but must first address copyrights of the graduate student.

These scenarios highlight challenges that many technology transfer offices (TTOs) are encountering, or will likely encounter in the near future. As students become increasingly proactive about intellectual property and their rights, TTOs must prepare for the implementation challenges posed by the America Invents Act.  This is an important time for TTOs to really invest in strategic education strategies and developing their relationships with their institutional colleagues.

At the invitation of Cari Moorhead, Associate Dean of UNH’s Graduate School, I recently had the opportunity to present at the 2013 Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools meeting held in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Katherine Chou, Executive Director of the Office of Technology Transfer & Business Development at Thomas Jefferson University, and I co-presented on intellectual property and points of intersection with graduate education to an audience of graduate school administrators. We ended the session with a few case studies, which, despite being late on a Friday afternoon, resulted in a very lively and thought-provoking debate. It was a good opportunity to contemplate my field of work as interpreted by a group tasked with the integrity of graduate education, and it also dovetailed nicely with work I am doing on campus with a working group discussing Intellectual Property.

There are three core messages as I think about intellectual property-graduate education intersection points:

  • At UNH, graduate students have the same intellectual property rights as faculty and staff.
  • There are a number of policies that relate to intellectual property, either directly or tangentially, and it is important to tactically review the synergy of the policies and the processes that support them.
  • Education, education, education – it is critical to educate graduate students along with the faculty and staff with whom they work about their intellectual property rights and obligations.

A number of policies that directly address intellectual property or peripherally relate to the topic are undergoing review and/or development, and it will be important for practitioners to maintain a global view of the policies. In addition, the ORPC is very interested in opportunities to provide discussions and seminars on intellectual property. I have been fortunate enough to present over the years to the GRAD930 course (Ethics in Research and Scholarship) taught by Julie Simpson and Thomas Pistole, and to participate in the Preparing Future Faculty and Preparing Future Professionals programs hosted by the Graduate School. Tristan Carrier, an ORPC licensing manager, recently presented about intellectual assets to the Materials Science Program. We would welcome the opportunity to continue to speak to classes, departments, labs, groups, and so on about intellectual assets, helping our university community understand about intellectual property, intellectual property rights, relevant policies and processes, and opportunities.

Please contact me directly by sending email to or calling 603-862-4377 to discuss topics and opportunities that would be of interest to you, your department, or your classroom.


Photo: UNH Annual Graduate Research Conference

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