10 Things Every UNC Researcher Needs to Know

There are four forms of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.
Patents protect new and useful methods and ideas; copyrights protect creative expressions; trademarks identify the source of commercial goods; and trade secrets protect valuable information that is not widely known. Read more about intellectual property.

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – Thomas Edison
Similarly, a successful new product is 1% revolutionary idea and 99% product development, regulatory approvals, advertising, sales, market capture and quite frankly, luck and good timing. An innovative idea is an important element in this cycle, but certainly not the only factor in its success. Read more about commercialization.

A patent is not a measure of good science; it is a tool of commerce.
A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from practicing the idea without the owner’s permission; a right that can be licensed or sold to extract value. Deciding what and whether to patent is a strategic business decision based primarily on commercial factors rather than scientific merit. Read more about patenting strategy.

An invention can generate revenue if and only if one can successfully reach a viable market.
In short, if you make it will anyone buy it? And more importantly, will they buy enough of them to cover all the costs of bringing the product to the marketplace? These are difficult questions to answer but important questions to ask when considering if an idea has the potential to be the basis for a viable company or product.

You can pursue both patents and publication.
However, you need to pursue these efforts in the right order. If you publish before you file a patent application, you will lose the ability to secure patent rights in countries outside the U.S. and you may undermine the potential to develop the idea into a useful product.

Public Disclosure Can Lead to Loss of Patent Rights
Meaningful rights to obtain patents are frequently, inadvertently, lost because of early public disclosure. U.S. law provides a one-year grace period between public disclosure and the filing of a patent application. By contrast, most foreign patent rights are lost immediately upon public disclosure prior to filing a patent application. If you are planning to present your research at a conference, publish, or otherwise publicly disclose your invention, talk with someone at OTD prior to the presentation to learn about ways to protect your patent rights. OTD suggests bringing your invention to us at the earliest possible date, preferably before any public discussion of the technology, to obtain the maximum benefit from U.S. and international patent laws. In no case should an outside company be informed of your invention before you notify OTD; your intellectual property can be protected with a Confidential Disclosure Agreement between UNC Chapel Hill and the company/institution.

A copyright is acquired as soon as the work is created.
Unlike patent rights which are granted after a formal and lengthy application and review process, copyrights are established as soon as an original work of authorship is created and fixed in a tangible form. The rights and obligations for copyright owners and distinctly different than the rights and obligations for patent owners.

Keep Meticulous Lab Notebooks!
Laboratory notebook records (lab books) are one of our best sources of evidence for establishing a date of invention. In order to do this all lab books should be signed daily by the researcher and a witness. All pages in lab books should be numbered and bound so that the pages cannot be removed. In a worst case scenario, your laboratory notebooks may eventually become important evidence in litigation by establishing the date of invention and proving you were the first to invent.

Not Every Invention Can Be Patented
An invention must pass three tests to be eligible for a utility patent: it must be technologically useful, not previously known to the public ("novel"), and nonobvious at the time of its invention. A "novel" invention is one not previously published anywhere in the world nor on sale or publicly used in the United States. In determining whether previously published, sold or used technology ("prior art") is the same as the invention for which a patent is sought, one must look at each publication, sale or use individually. If each and every element of the claimed invention is present in one prior art publication, sale or use, then the claimed invention is anticipated and is unpatentable.

Patents Resulting from Research at Chapel Hill are Assigned to the University
A U.S. patent application is filed in the name of the inventor(s), however, University Patent Policy requires patent assignment to the University: From "Patent and Copyright Policies", Section IV: "Every invention or discovery or part thereof that results from research or other activities carried out at a constituent institution, or that is developed with the aid of the institution's facilities, staff, or through funds administered by the constituent institution, shall be the property of the constituent institution and, as a condition of employment or enrollment and attendance, shall be assigned by the University inventor to the constituent institution."