Students are encouraged to be creative and innovative at universities, but are students being taught the economic value, need and use of intellectual property and how it can and will impact their careers in the future?

Ideas change the world

Intellectual property (IP) knowledge is important not only for law students learning how to inform others about the value and management of IP, but for individuals studying business, engineering and technology. The Intellectual Property Awareness Network’s (IPAN’s) recent study of university IP policy, perception and practice suggests students want to develop a better understanding of intellectual property, IP rights and their university’s policies.

68% of UK students expect to be involved in creative or innovative activities involving IP at university, but many students do not know if they are creating IP with project work (19%), how to protect it (14%) or who to consult for IP advice (46%). When asked whether IP had ever been referred to during their education, 69% of participating students said ‘No’ or ‘Don’t Know’.

 The knowledge gap

In education, IP is most commonly mentioned in relation to the plagiarism of work. However, this narrow focus fails to advertise the link between IP and commercial success (or failure).

According to a recent NUS report - Student attitudes towards intellectual property - students want the relationship between IP and their future career to be clearly presented. The practical application of IP, and the importance of IP ownership, should be linked to commercial aspects of university courses. Very few students report receiving IP information at key points in their study, just 4% of NUS’s student sample received information before a work placement. Without IP knowledge, interns could miss opportunities to protect valuable IP or have ideas exploited by companies they have turned to for experience.

Start-ups often employ student software developers or graphic designers – companies get low-cost labour and students can benefit from working on real industry projects. Before they begin work, organisations often ask interns to sign non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements as it is unlikely students will create IP during their internship. However, if interns do develop IP and legal ownership is not transferred, ideas are potentially their own and the company cannot profit from them.

Fuelling future innovation

Academic and business leaders have long argued that countries need a larger, more technologically-savvy workforce to maximise economic growth. Universities should consider the importance of teaching IP in the curriculum when preparing graduates to be productive citizens of the innovation economy.  Given the importance of IP in today’s global economy, IP ownership and management needs to be given more emphasis in future university graduate programmes.