Intellectual property is a key element for strengthening partnerships between companies and UW-Milwaukee. The UWM Research Foundation helps develop intellectual property framework agreements that recognize the importance of intellectual property to a company’s competitive position while ensuring that UWM’s academic and research mission is not restricted. The UWM Research Foundation has built a portfolio of technologies with key strengths in water technologies, drug discovery, nanomaterials, sensors, medical devices, and energy. UWMRF also collaborates with other technology transfer offices worldwide to promote technology transfer and the commercialization of jointly owned inventions.

Intellectual Property Guidelines

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property, in general terms, is anything useful and tangible that results from a person’s creative efforts, including artistic ingeniousness or inventiveness. Examples might include a new blood gas analyzer, a new class of organic molecules, a video program, a photograph, a book, an educational software program, or an improved socket wrench for use by the physically handicapped. Review the full list of guidelines here. 

What are Patents and Copyrights?

Patents and copyrights are legal mechanisms to protect intellectual property for limited time periods. Intellectual property protected by a patent or a copyright may not be used by any individual, other than the owner of the patent or copyright, except with the express permission of that owner. Enforcement is in the federal courts.

Why should I protect my Intellectual Property?

If you have developed something new, which is useful to you, it may also be useful to others. When new products are found to be useful, people usually are willing to pay for them. Depending on the market for a product, sales may generate profits for the maker (and UWM and you). In this case, the creator/inventor should receive some of the professional and monetary compensation. However, if you have not properly protected your intellectual property, other individuals or companies could use it and not share the recognition and/or profit. Many companies are reluctant to market products unprotected by copyright or patent. Under UWM Policy, the inventor will share in royalties that may result from licensing patented or copyrighted materials.

who owns the intellectual property while at UWM?

Intellectual property unrelated to the individual’s employment responsibility that is developed on an individual’s own time and without system support or use of system facilities is the exclusive property of the creator, and the system has no interest in any such property and no claim to any profits resulting therefrom. Intellectual property resulting from research supported by a grant or contract with the federal government, or an agency thereof, shall be subject to ownership by the Board of Regents of the UW System. Intellectual property resulting from research supported by a grant or contract with a non-profit or for-profit non-governmental entity, or by a private gift or grant is subject to the rules contained within the appropriate contract.

What types of intellectual property can be copyrighted?

Copyright protects the expression (but not the underlying ideas) in articles and books; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works, particularly videotape productions; sound recordings; and computer software. Copyright gives the owner exclusive right to publish or copy the work. While copyright attaches upon creation of the work, legal enforcement of one’s rights is possible only if the copyright is registered in the Copyright Office. This is a much simpler and less expensive process than a patent.

what types of intellectual property can be patented?

A patentable invention (used in the general sense) includes a process, a machine, an article of manufacture, or a composition of matter that is new, useful, and unobvious to a person possessing “ordinary skill in the art” to which the invention relates. Usually the invention must have been reduced to practice, i.e. an actual tangible “thing” must have been produced. In some instances, a constructive reduction to practice can be accomplished through the filing of a speculative patent application. Mental processes, theories, or ideas usually cannot be patented, and neither can discoveries of new laws of nature and naturally occurring articles. For example, a previously unknown non-manmade virus is not patentable, but a newly purified state of a known virus may be.

How do I protect my intellectual property rights?

Although many reputable commercial companies may respect your intellectual property rights, it is always best to protect your own interests carefully. In general, you should not communicate the details of your invention in preliminary discussions, whether oral or written. As soon as possible, but certainly before you send detailed information, you need to request that the company sign a confidentiality agreement. The UWM Office of Sponsored Programs has a standard Confidential Disclosure Agreement available for this purpose. Detailed information may be sent after the confidentiality agreement is signed. When sending the company detailed information, a cover letter identifying the information as proprietary and privileged and within the scope of the confidentiality agreement must be sent. Under the terms of the confidentiality agreement, the company is not to divulge your information to any other company and not use it for any other purpose except evaluative. The agreement also specifies that providing the information to the company does not mean that you are transferring your intellectual property rights or a license in it to them.

how do i obtain a patent or a copyright?

If you are a full-time or part-time employee at UWM and if you think that you have developed intellectual property that could be patented or copyrighted, you should file an invention or copyright disclosure with the UWM Research Foundation. The UWM Office of Sponsored Programs will take the disclosure and perform an equity review to determine if any grant funding was used to create the invention. The UWMRF will prepare reports on the patentability and market landscape for the concept.

who is the inventor?

Although it is convenient to speak of an invention as the product of an inventor, an invention may be the product of more than one mind. Indeed, the law mandates that application for a patent is made only in the name of no less than and no more than all its joint inventors. The exact parameters of what constitutes joint inventorship are quite difficult to define.

On the one hand, it is reasonably clear that a person who has only followed the instructions of another in performing experiments is not a co-inventor of the object to which those experiments are directed. To claim inventorship is to claim at least some role in the final conception of that which is sought to be patented. Perhaps one need not be able to point to a specific component as one’s sole idea, but one must be able to say that without his contribution to the final conception, it would have been less. Less efficient, less simple, less economical, less something of benefit, and such contribution is expressed in the claims of the patent application.

what is a royalty?

The owner of a patent or copyright need not make copies or products directly for sale. Instead, a company can be “licensed” to make the product or to use it. For each product or each use, the owner negotiates in advance with the manufacturing or distributing company for a fee to be paid. The fee is called a “royalty.” The royalty is specified in the license agreement and is a percentage of sales or other distribution of the product or process. It may be a small or large percentage of the product’s total cost, depending on numerous factors such as the relative value of the intellectual property, size of the market, relation of the production cost to the sale cost, etc.

what is a trade secret?

Trade secret protection can be obtained for a formula, program, or data used to advantage in one’s business. It requires a minimal threshold of novelty and effort by the owner to protect the trade secret except as disclosed under an agreement restricting disclosure or use. This is usually accomplished through an explicit license agreement covering use of the trade secret. Usually, one requires the formal execution of such an agreement before providing access to the information. Trade secrets are best used in private industry, and are not customary in an academic setting due to various policies and practices of publication and sharing of research data.

does disclosing my invention to UWMRF protect my work immediately?

No. A conservative approach would be to file your invention disclosure before you submit your manuscript or abstract for publication or presentation. The UWMRF will provide a report within 45 days to determine if there is interest in protecting the invention with a patent application. Therefore, early submission to the UWM Research Foundation is strongly encouraged.

what can be done to protect computer software?

Computer software can be protected by patents or copyright, depending on the nature of the software. While most ordinary programs, or the mathematical algorithms on which they are often based, usually are not patentable, there is increasing use of patent protection being afforded to algorithms used to implement novel and nonobvious processes connected to a machine. Many such patents provide protection for the methods of using the algorithm and not just the specific implementation of a computer program. Copyright protection is widely used for computer software because it is easier and less costly to obtain. Copyright protection can be obtained for original software, whether an application program, an operating system or a database. Publication of the software is not always required. Copyright protection only protects the specific work so that it remains possible for others to independently create programs with identical or equivalent capabilities.

are there any special rules that i need to keep in mind?

Yes! The most important of these is that for all U.S. patents a patent application must be filed with the United States Patent Office within one year after publication or public use of the invention. International patent protection must be secured before a public disclosure such as a publication, presentation, or conversation. Publication, as used here, means a public presentation, whether by an oral presentation at a scientific meeting or by an abstract or article in a journal. Even local presentations at UWM poster sessions count as a public disclosure, while submitting a grant does not affect patentability. If you are unsure as to what constitutes publication, consult the UWM Research Foundation in advance. With respect to copyrights, a copyright application should be submitted within three months of publication in order to obtain maximum damages if the copyright is infringed.

UWMRF Training Videos

Protect and Commercialize your Works and Software

Intellectual Property and Patenting Overview