Intellectual property issues and student work
Intellectual property and student work
This page was originally written by Susan Corbett in response to the Year 12/13 student work done at Tauranga Boys' College.
Just as there are several different stages of development of a product, there are different kinds of intellectual property (IP) implications. Sometimes certain IP that is relevant to one product category will not necessarily be relevant to another category.
For instance, one product might be suitable to protect by a registered design or by relying upon copyright. Another might need to be protected by a patent.
At the beginning of a project developers are unsure if they will eventually develop something that is likely to have commercial value. Thus, it is advisable to protect an idea and its early stages of development by keeping them secret. Ask people involved in the discussions to sign a confidentiality agreement. Anyone who talks about their invention or design in public cannot file a valid application for a patent or a registered design afterwards.
Drawings and designs, including CAD models of students' ideas, are copyright. No formality is needed for this protection – it arises automatically. Students should put their names and the full date on any such items. By doing so, they establish a clear record of their copyright ownership.
Because students are making their products at school, usually with the help of teachers and the use of some school equipment, there is a possibility that the school itself might be entitled to claim that it is a joint owner of the IP in a student's product.
This highlights the importance of New Zealand schools having intellectual property policies, which set out clearly the relationship between the school, teachers and students with regard to intellectual property created on school premises.
If a student's product appears to have commercial value, it might be worth protecting the IP by applying to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand to register a patent or design.
This is a complicated, time-consuming process. While it can be done by a non-legally qualified person, often it is safer to enlist the assistance of a patent attorney.
At this stage students might find it useful to explain their product to a potential investor who could assist with the costs. Remember that students who do this should always ask the investor to sign a confidentiality agreement. Such an agreement safeguards the students' ownership of their ideas, although it does not necessarily provide 100% security.
The only way to be completely safe is to remain quiet and never discuss a new idea or product with anyone.
The fact that an idea, product, or process has only ever been discussed under the auspices of a confidentiality agreement is considered to preserve the novelty of the idea for the purposes of applying to register a patent or design.
IPONZ has developed a procedure called "gazetting" that allows students who display their product at gazetted public events, such as some school science fairs to retain their claims to novelty, provided the student applies for patent or design registration within six months of the gazetted event.
The procedure for gazetting, and more information about its effect, can be downloaded from the IPONZ Information Library. This important if you believe you may wish to patent your invention in the future.
Instead of registering a patent or design, some inventors prefer to "flood the market" with their new product. They use the protection of a registered trade mark to build up a reputation for the product.
This can be an effective strategy, but it does not prevent competitors copying a product and putting their own versions on the market. The inventor would then have to keep ahead of competitors by regularly developing newer versions of the product or by convincing customers that products sold under their trade mark are better quality, or more reliable than those of competitors.
Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) – detailed information about trade marks, patents, and registered designs
The site also has databases of registered patents, trade marks, and designs. Anyone can search the databases to check that a product or mark has not already been registered by somebody else. Note that copyright is not registrable anywhere – it arises automatically by law.