There’s a rather common meme that was doing the rounds on social media which stated that “India is a country where we first become an “Engineer” and then think of what we really want to become” The number of people who identified with the statement was staggering and it’s not too hard to imagine. With medicine and engineering the top two things Indian parents want their kids to study (gotta be thankful to my folks who let me study law) it’s not hard to believe. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) estimates that there are approximately 1.7 million students in India who graduate with a degree in engineering each year.

Each of the million plus students have to submit a project in their given field of study as a part of their curriculum. While there are a number of students who have assistance with their projects from agencies that help out with it, there are a lot of unique projects that are created.

What happens if projects are unique enough to be patented?

There are several university patents that have been granted over the years. According to the USPTO statistics over 7500 patents have been granted/assigned to the University of California alone over the years. On average the University of California has been granted 300 and over patents each year. The IP Office in India in its Annual Report of 2013-14 lists out the total number of patent applications filed by different universities and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT – all campuses) tops the list at 342 applications. While the IPO report only shows the university patents filed and not granted, it is good to see educational institutions taking steps to protect inventions. The list of top educational institutions on the basis of the number of patents filed as per the annual report is mentioned below

So who owns what in university patents?

As a student if you have worked on a project or come up with something, do you get to own the patent or does your university? Most universities will or ought to have a policy in place which clearly states that the patent will be registered and owned by the university itself and not the inventors. If the patent is something that they will license or make profit out of, they may be willing to share some of the royalty with the inventors (students) as well. This depends on the policy that the university has in place. In general the time to negotiate the terms of royalties is when the university has to file the patent application – they would need the inventors to assign their rights by signing an assignment deed.

What happens if the professor lists himself/herself as an inventor instead of the student?

From my general interactions with students who have been inventors in patent applications filed by their universities, most of them haven’t or aren’t compensated for their work; they are usually told to be content with being credited as inventors.

On some occasions though, the professors claim to be inventors on patent applications for projects that their students may have worked on. In such cases, all may not be lost, inventors may be able oppose the patent application on the grounds that they are the rightful inventors.

So if you’re a college student who has created something unique that could be protected under the law of patents you can take a look at one of our earlier articles Indian Patent law basics – Patent Application procedure which deals with the basics of patenting.

Before getting into filing an application though you would need to keep the following in mind:

  • Check to see if your university has a clear IP policy
  • Discuss the matter with the university staff to get an idea of how things work if the policy is not in place
  • Talk to a patent lawyer to figure out how to go about things.

Creating something in college that may be patent worthy could benefit both students and the institution. It’s encouraging to see that the Indian Patent Office has been receiving more patent applications from universities with student inventors over the years. So if you’re a student and have your project work in the pipeline, you just might be looking at becoming an inventor of a patent!

This article has been authored by Navarre Roy, an IP Law practitioner.