Intellectual Property Guidelines

IPG01 Faculty Guidance On Student Intellectual Property Rights (Formerly RAG12)

Policy Status: 

Under Review

Subject Matter Expert: 

Office of Technology Management, 814-865-6277,

Policy Steward: 

Senior Vice President for Research


  • Guidelines
  • Further Information
  • Cross References

    The advent of heightened interest around the issue of ownership of the intellectual property (IP) created, invented or discovered by students has created a much more complex situation for students, faculty and providers of sponsorship and case studies. The issues revolve around the following questions on IP ownership:

    1. What if students make an invention in a course they are taking?
    2. Are grad students different from undergraduate students?
    3. What if undergrads work "for free" in a University laboratory to gain experience?
    4. What about student interns, both at Penn State and at other institutions?
    5. What about undergraduate theses?
    6. What about situations where students develop design changes or problem solving in case-based learning on problems submitted by companies?

    To deal with these challenges, and to create a practical and comprehensive policy, the forms detailed under "Special Student Intellectual Property Agreement Form" have been developed.

    As a simple summary of the principal points underlying the forms:

    1. If any student, grad or undergrad, taking any course for credit develops IP, the IP belongs to the student and an IP assignment agreement is not required,
      • no matter who paid for the course.
      • without regard for whether they are graduate students or undergraduates,
      • except for 600-level “research courses” for graduate theses.
    2. If graduate students are doing any research in a University facility, all IP belongs to the University and an IP assignment agreement is required.
    3. If undergraduate students are working in a research setting or in an instructional capacity,
      • if they are paid for the work in a research setting, the IP belongs to the University.
      • if they are doing it in a for-credit course, the IP is theirs.
      • if they are working for "experience," and they do not sign an IP assignment agreement, the IP is theirs.
    4. If students develop IP in solving projects in a "for credit" course using case-based learning based on externally-submitted (company, institute, or non-profit) problems,
      • the IP belongs to the students if there is no agreement to the contrary.
      • if sponsors want to retain IP rights, they need to have students assign their IP rights by signing an appropriate agreement.
      • it is the student's choice to participate in projects requiring them to assign their rights.
      • students must have a "non assignment" option in every course.
    5. Summer students/interns at Penn State and Penn State students at other institutions need to sign the appropriate IP agreement for the host institution.
    6. For required senior theses, or seminar with a research component, the student must have available an option that allows them to retain their IP.
    7. Medical, law and MBA students retain their IP rights, and faculty should be cognizant of which projects require IP protection in their assignments.
    8. For "works of art," including poetry, sculpture, graphic arts, painting, etc., all rights rest with the creator unless there is some specific agreement/contract which designates the effort as a "work for hire."
    9. If a company sponsors student research in connection with a "for credit" course, they need to be aware that the results generated,
      • are provided "as is" with no legal representations.
      • are not the work of the University.
      • need to be identified as student research performed without independent evaluation.
      • require approval in writing before publication.

    Forms are available, in the policy guideline IPG02, Special Student Intellectual Property Agreement Forms to deal with all of the situations requiring assignment, or notification of the sponsors of the research. Faculty have the responsibility to get the appropriate IP agreement signed.


    For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research.


    Other Policies in this manual should also be referenced, especially the following:

    IP01– Ownership and Management of Intellectual Property

    IPG02 - Special Student Intellectual Property Agreement Forms

    Effective Date: January 7, 2013

    Date Approved: September 14, 2012

    Date Published: January 7, 2013 (Editorial changes- November 19, 2015)

    Most Recent Changes:

    • November 19, 2015 - Editorial changes. Title changes FROM "Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School" TO "Vice President for Research."

    Revision History (and effective dates):

    • October 25, 2013 - Editorial changes. Addition of policy steward information, in the event that there are questions or requests for changes to the policy.
    • January 7, 2013- Policy moved from the Research Administration section, formerly named RAG12 - Faculty Guidance On Student Intellectual Property Rights. Revised, moved to new Intellectual Property section and and renamed Policy IPG01 - Faculty Guidance On Student Intellectual Property Rights.
    • New Policy Guideline in Research Administration Guideline section