University IP policies: perception and practice

Author:Ruth Soetendorp - Mandy Haberman - Steve Smith
Position:Intellectual Property Awareness Network Education Group, United Kingdom

Students are destined to be key workers in the knowledge economy. They will be dealing with intellectual property (IP) during their studies and future careers. So how well do they understand it? Recent research from the United Kingdom suggests there is much room for improvement.


In July 2016, the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) published research which sought to achieve a better understanding of how IP policies in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are perceived and practised on UK campuses. Almost 3,000 students and 250 academics responded to the online questionnaires devised by NUS Insight, the professional research arm of the UK National Union of Students (NUS), in conjunction with IPAN.

In a foreword to the report, Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of the UK University of the Arts in London, wrote: “IPAN’s powerful survey has identified and described the lack of understanding of IP so effectively. The gap in staff and student understanding of IP may represent a failure in knowledge transfer so far, but at least we can teach our way out of it.” Considering how IP might be taught, he went on to say that “IP is as much about recognising opportunities and the nature of university business as it is about managing threats. There is a need to emphasise the positive, and encourage students to think of IP rights as something of value which they themselves produce, own and exploit.”

Changing attitudes to IP

In 1999, The New York Times described IP as having “transformed from a sleepy area of law and business to one of the driving engines of a high-technology economy.” Business commitment to IP issues has grown since then, and it might have been reasonable to expect a similar mushrooming of initiatives to bring IP awareness and competence to graduates seeking careers in the knowledge economy. Sadly this has not been the case.

Globally, regionally and nationally, attempts are being made to help future generations understand the central role that IP plays in the economy and society and to equip them to benefit from it. In the UK, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has developed IP Tutor for self-managed student learning, and the Government’s university Quality Assurance Agency is beginning to include intellectual property awareness as a benchmark for assessing different programs.

But for “IP enthusiasts” (to borrow the epithet of IPKat founder Jeremy Phillips) that isn’t enough. Today, more universities may offer their non-law students an opportunity to become acquainted with IP, but still the majority of HEIs are content for their students to graduate without an awareness of what IP is or the impact it will have on their future careers.

The concern this causes is evident in the reports of governments...

To continue reading