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Who owns your research if you work in academia? In industry?

  1. May 2, 2013 #1
    I am planning on working as a researcher and am wondering if it is possible to do any kind of entrepreneurialism with my findings. I am sorry if this is a stupid question and see no way that a company would allow me to make money off of the research I did for them, but I thought that a university might allow it. Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2013 #2


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    Umm what do you think they are paying you for

    If you can find a way to turn your research into a product, many universities will have deals where they help your company and everyone splits the profits. But is you're going into research so you can found a company at a university you're really doing it wrong
  4. May 2, 2013 #3
    How do you do it right? I have a couple projects on the table that require somewhat of diverse talents, only a few of which I have. I can't do everything myself. Somehow I have to network, but how? I don't think I'll have much success headhunting the engineers and mathemeticians I need from the private tech sector, who are already making way more than I could pay them (which would be $0. Those are US dollars, btw:smile:). So going to a university and networking with the young and adventuresome sounds like a good way to go. Maybe this is where the OP is at too.

    Is there any other feasible alternative?
  5. May 2, 2013 #4


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    Absolutely. There are plenty of examples of academics who turn their research into patented products and entrepreneurial ventures. Many universities are starting to host offices specifically dedicated to this kind of thing. Usually, the university will get a significant cut of course, but that's the trade-off.

    To an extent the commercial world may not be all that different - at least in some companies. Usually when you begin working for a company in a research capacity, part of your contract contains a clause that essentially says the company owns whatever work you do - even if you do it at home, in your spare time. But smarter companies also realise that it's better to encourage constructive thinking and reap a share of the rewards rather then suppress it completely.[/QUOTE]
  6. May 3, 2013 #5
    This is actually something to be a bit wary of- technically, most of the time the university owns the research you do with their resources, not you. More and more universities are building up their technology transfer offices in order to effectively license their research, which can lead to situations where your invention/product can become licensed to a third party.

    As far as anecdotes go, I know one professor who has been a serial entrepreneur who says that the tech transfer offices have made it a bit harder for academics to try and commercialize their research because it adds bureaucratic layers to the process,etc.
    Last edited: May 3, 2013
  7. May 3, 2013 #6
    The details of your employment contract matter here, as well as trade secret considerations. Anything you invent on your own time that incorporates trade secret information from your employer will generally belong to the employer, regardless of the details of your contract. This usually overlaps with your non-compete agreement. It is a bad idea to try to invent a product that will compete in the marketplace with your employers' products. I have known people to get fired for this in the blink of an eye. As in, as soon as the non-compete violation was discovered, the person in question was out of the building in about 15 minutes.

    Now to turn to positive things, many researchers in an academic setting are able to use either their own networks or the university's tech transfer office to patent, and maybe even commericialize products based on their research. Universities [usually] like this because it makes them money, and it is good PR. Here is a blog by an academic physicist who has been involved in a number of startups. http://infoproc.blogspot.com/search/label/entrepreneurs

    It *is* sometimes possible to turn an idea invented while at work in industry into your own company. This is rarer, but it is known as extrapeneurship. This happens most often when you come up with something your employer has no interest in selling, but it is worth some money, so you get cut loose with your invention with some kind of contract to give the parent company money. Don't hang your hat on this, but it does happen.
  8. May 3, 2013 #7
    Every company or university that I have ever worked for has made me sign a paper indicating that any IP I might develop during my employment belongs to them, period.

    As others have pointed out, many universities will happily license your ideas back to you for a cut of the profits.

    This is also possible in industry, if the company doesn't consider your idea to be a part of their core business. I've seen several cases where a group of employees have negotiated or tried to negotiate a spinoff startup company. (If your idea is part of the company's core business, they'll just keep it and use it themselves, of course. But if they aren't particularly interested in it, they will certainly be willing to let you do the work and take the risk for a significant share of the profits.)
  9. May 3, 2013 #8


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    I have found the same thing. As a working in industry everything I do is owned by my employer. My contract says that I cannot consult or take an extra job without first checking with them. In general it would be forbidden unless it was not technical at all (musical performance, for example). They are nice about giving patent holders a cut of the royalties, however.
  10. May 4, 2013 #9


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    My experience is that your contract, whether with a University or an industrial company, will specify what rights the company has to your research.

    I was at University of Florida when a guy in the medical research area developed "Gator Ade". He was, like all researchers, supposed to have signed a paper giving rights his research to the Univeristy, but apparently they forgot to include that in his "packet" at the time. He, in any case, went to the university to tell them that he thought his research would have marketable results. He was then told that the University wasn't interested in getting into marketing! Of course, that ended as soon as the Economics boys found out how much could be made from it. University of Florida recieved all rights just as if he has signed the correct papers.
  11. May 4, 2013 #10
    Sounds like a dichotomy... So what's the moral to the story?
  12. May 5, 2013 #11
    The large entity with deep pockets wins.
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