The basics of intellectual property rights

A PhD is all about finding out or doing something new and exciting. But who do these ideas belong to? Who has the rights to the knowledge you have gained during your hard work over those long years? In this blog, Pippa explains some key things you should know about intellectual property.

What are intellectual property rights?

Intellectual property rights are the methods that keep our creative ideas safe from others, allowing you to get the credit and potential rewards for your hard work. A wide range of things can be protected ranging from literary pieces and art to inventions and symbols (1).

There are various types of intellectual property rights and these depend on the type of work that you want to protect.

Many people will have heard of copyright which prevent others from producing and distributing an individual’s original work. It’s copyright which leads to the importance of correctly citing work, preventing plagiarism and people taking the credit for work someone else undertook (1).

Another is patenting. This provides the rights to an invention, allowing you to be the sole manufacturer, distributor and seller of your product. An important point for PhD students is that once the research is published it can no longer be patented and in Europe if you publicly disclose your work you can no longer patent (1). The interesting thing about patents is that you need an individual one for each country that you want to protect your invention in.

The final one I’m going to talk about is trademarking. This is the right, for identifying industrial products such as logos, shapes, colour or words that identify a product (1). A company has likely spent years developing their branding to gain loyal customers and trademarking prevents other companies from exploiting this. Coca-Cola, for instance, has trademarks for its font, logo and even the shape of the bottle.

Within the scope of postgraduate study, many novel ideas and findings come about. This could be a new drug, extensive code or a novel hypothesis (1). These ideas could provide financial gain or could be turned into a new start-up company. However, in academia knowing who has intellectual property rights can become murky.

Who to contact about issues relating to intellectual property?

The first port of call if you are unsure who has the rights to your work is to look at the contract signed at the beginning of your study. Commonly, this contract will suggest that anything that comes out of your work belongs to the University. If you are a Warwick student and still unsure about what to do, you can contact the research and impact services. Depending on the sensitivity of your work this may need to be done anonymously and vaguely to ensure you don’t infringe and impact the outcome, for instance, if you are trying to patent work.

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Do you have questions relating to intellectual property? Perhaps you would like to share your experience with intellectual property rights? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Pippa Richardson is in the third year of her PhD in neuroscience here at the University of Warwick looking in detail at proteins involved in learning and memory. She is also a counselling ambassador for the University. You can find her on twitter @pipparichardso2.


Cover image: steam-locomotive-steam-car-4275398 / darkworkx / CC0 1.0

Image 1: copyright-stealing-asset-bag-3197524 / mohamed_hassanCC0 1.0

Image 2: coca-cola-bottle-lock-trademarks-1449843 / myriams-fotosCC0 1.0


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