13.1 - Intellectual Property

The aim of the Institute's policy on patents, copyrights, and other Intellectual Property is to make available Institute technology to industry and others for the public benefit, while providing recognition to individual inventors and encouraging the prompt and open dissemination of research results.

The complete policy statement is set forth in the Guide to the Ownership, Distribution and Commercial Development of MIT Technology which is available from the Technology Licensing Office (TLO).

13.1.1 Ownership of Intellectual Property

With the exception of student theses as described below in Section 13.1.3 (Ownership of Copyrights in Theses), rights in patentable inventions, mask works, tangible research property, trademarks, and copyrightable works, including software ("Intellectual Property"), made or created by MIT faculty, students, staff, and others participating in MIT programs, including visitors, are as follows:

  1. Inventor(s)/author(s) will own Intellectual Property that is:
    1. not developed in the course of or pursuant to a sponsored research or other agreement (the faculty advisor, administrative officer, or the Office of Sponsored Programs contracts administrator can advise on the terms of the agreements that apply to specific research); and
    2. not created as a "work-for-hire" by operation of copyright law (a "work-for-hire" is defined, in part, as a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment) and not created pursuant to a written agreement with MIT providing for a transfer of copyright or ownership of Intellectual Property to MIT; and
    3. not developed with the significant use of funds or facilities administered by MIT ("significant use" is discussed in Section 2.1.2 of the Guide).
  2. Ownership of all other Intellectual Property will be as follows:
    1. MIT owns Intellectual Property made or created by MIT faculty, students, staff or others participating in research pursuant to a sponsored research agreement to which MIT is a party;
    2. ownership of copyrightable works created as "works-for-hire" or pursuant to a written agreement with MIT providing for the transfer of any Intellectual Property or ownership to MIT will vest with MIT;
    3. ownership of Intellectual Property developed by faculty, students, staff, and others participating in MIT programs, including visitors, with the significant use of funds or facilities administered by MIT will vest with MIT.

13.1.2 Significant Use of MIT-Administered Resources

When Intellectual Property is developed by MIT faculty, students, staff, visitors, or others participating in MIT programs using significant MIT funds or facilities, MIT will own the Intellectual Property. If the material is not subject to a sponsored research or other agreement giving a third party rights, the issue of whether or not a significant use was made of MIT funds or facilities will be reviewed by the inventor's/author's laboratory director or department head, and a recommendation forwarded to the Technology Licensing Office (TLO). The Vice President for Research will make the final decision on this issue and on any dispute or interpretation of policy relating to Intellectual Property.

Textbooks developed in conjunction with class teaching are excluded from the "significant use" category and not considered "works-for-hire," unless such textbooks were developed using MIT-administered funds paid specifically to support textbook development. Otherwise, the author is the owner.

Generally, an invention, software, or other copyrightable material, mask work, or tangible research property will not be considered to have been developed using MIT funds or facilities if:

  1. only a minimal amount of unrestricted funds has been used; and
  2. the Intellectual Property has been developed outside of the assigned area of research of the inventor(s)/author(s) under a research assistantship or sponsored project; and
  3. only a minimal amount of time has been spent using significant MIT facilities or only insignificant facilities and equipment have been utilized (note: use of office, library, machine shop facilities, and of traditional desktop personal computers are examples of facilities and equipment that are not considered significant); and
  4. the development has been made on the personal, unpaid time of the inventor(s)/author(s).

When an Intellectual Property is not subject to a sponsored research or other agreement (such as an equipment agreement), but has been developed using significant MIT funds or facilities, the Technology Licensing Office may, at its discretion and consistent with the public interest, license the inventor(s)/author(s) exclusively or nonexclusively on a royalty basis. The inventor(s)/author(s) must demonstrate technical and financial capability to commercialize the Intellectual Property, and the TLO will have the right to terminate such license if the inventor(s)/author(s) have not achieved effective dissemination within three years. Where such a license is issued, the inventor(s)/author(s) may be required to assume the costs of filing, prosecuting, and maintaining any patent rights.

13.1.3 Ownership of Copyrights in Theses

The ownership of copyrights in student theses is governed by the following:

  1. Copyright ownership of theses generated by research that is performed in whole or in part by the student with financial support in the form of wages, salaries, stipend, or grant from funds administered by the Institute shall be determined in accordance with the terms of the support agreement, or in the absence of such terms, shall become the property of the Institute.
  2. Copyright ownership of theses generated by research performed in whole or in part utilizing equipment or facilities provided to the Institute under conditions that impose copyright restrictions shall be determined in accordance with such restrictions. Questions regarding restrictions imposed on any of the Institute's facilities or equipment may be addressed to the administrative officer of the laboratory or department or to the appropriate contract administrator in the Office of Sponsored Programs.
  3. Students will own the copyrights to theses not within the provisions of a) and b) above; however, a student must, as a condition to a degree award, grant royalty-free permission to the Institute to reproduce and publicly distribute copies of his/her thesis.
  4. Where significant use is made of MIT facilities or equipment provided to MIT without copyright restrictions, students own copyrights in theses per c) above; however, software code, patentable subject matter, and other Intellectual Property contained or disclosed in the theses are subject to the significant use policy set forth in Section 13.1.2 above.

13.1.4 Invention and Proprietary Information Agreements

All members of the MIT community — including visiting scientists and fellows — who participate in either sponsored research or Institute-funded research or who use significant funds or facilities administered by the Institute must agree to the terms in MIT's Invention and Proprietary Information Agreement and sign the agreement. By accepting such funds or using such significant facilities, the individual agrees to assign to MIT or its designate his or her title to Intellectual Property created through the use of such funds or facilities.

It is the responsibility of the administrative officer of each laboratory or department to distribute these forms and to collect signed copies. The forms should be signed in triplicate: one copy to be retained by the individual, one by the laboratory or department, and one forwarded to the Technology Licensing Office (TLO).

Any questions regarding the meaning of any terms in this agreement should be addressed to the TLO. Copies of the form are appended to the Guide to the Ownership, Distribution and Commercial Development of MIT Technology or may be obtained from either the administrative officer in each laboratory or department or the TLO.

13.1.5 Consulting Agreements

It is the responsibility of individual members of the MIT community to ensure that the terms of their consulting agreements with third parties do not conflict with their commitments to the Institute (see Sections 4.3 Full-Time Service, 4.4 Conflict of Interest, and 4.5 Outside Professional Activities). Each individual should make the nature of his or her obligations to the Institute clear to any third party for whom he or she expects to consult. Specifically, the scope of the consulting services should be distinguished from the scope of research commitments at the Institute.

The Institute will not negotiate any consulting agreements on behalf of any faculty, student, or staff member; however, any questions regarding the Institute's policies may be directed to the Technology Licensing Office.

13.1.6 Organization

There are two offices and one committee responsible for addressing all Intellectual Property matters at the Institute. The President appoints various members of the community to the Committee on Intellectual Property that is empowered to develop Intellectual Property policies for the Institute. The Vice President for Research chairs this committee and is responsible for the implementation and administration of these policies. The Office of Sponsored Programs negotiates the patent and copyright terms for each research agreement with every government and industrial sponsor, subject to Technology Licensing Office (TLO) approval of any non-standard license terms. The TLO licenses the resulting intellectual property. All technology disclosures should be sent to the TLO.

13.1.7 Disclosures and Technology Transfer

The federal government funds a significant amount of research at the Institute, and the Institute is obligated by federal regulations to report promptly to the appropriate federal agency any inventions conceived or reduced to practice during the course of a government-sponsored research program. The Institute similarly is obligated to report inventions to its industrial sponsors who provide financial support for research.

In order to comply with these policies and contract terms, inventors and authors must report to the Technology Licensing Office (TLO) any Intellectual Property (as defined in the first paragraph of Section 13.1.1 Ownership of Intellectual Property above) created during the course of a sponsored research agreement or with the use of significant funds or facilities administered by the Institute.

The form for reporting the creation of Intellectual Property is entitled MIT Technology Disclosure, and a copy is appended to the Guide to the Ownership, Distribution and Commercial Development of MIT Technology, or may be obtained from the TLO. Copies of the disclosures should also be submitted simultaneously to the inventor's project supervisor and the department head or laboratory director. There is a space on the MIT Technology Disclosure form to identify the sponsor that funded the research resulting in the Intellectual Property.

At the time the invention is disclosed, it is assigned an internal case number and a copy of the disclosure is sent to the Intellectual Property Coordinator in the Office of Sponsored Programs, who reviews the patent and copyright terms of the applicable research agreements and notifies sponsors of the disclosures. In the TLO, the disclosure is assigned to a technology licensing officer who will contact the inventor(s) to discuss the invention. A decision is then made as to whether technology transfer will be accomplished most effectively by applying for patent or other legal protection. Industrial sponsors are usually granted rights to elect a license to technology for which patent or other legal protection is sought; the specific terms are then negotiated with the TLO.

More generally, the TLO will pursue the licensing of technology by researching the market for the technology, entering into discussions with potential licensees, developing a business plan, negotiating appropriate licenses or other agreements, monitoring progress, and distributing royalties to the inventor(s)/author(s) in accordance with MIT royalty policy.

13.1.8 Teaching Materials

In the case of copyrightable works developed by the Faculty, MIT's mission has generally been best served by allowing the individual faculty member to decide when, how, and in what form these works should be disseminated. [See policies on intellectual property (Section 13.1.1, Ownership of Intellectual Property) and textbooks (Section 13.1.3, Ownership of Copyrights in Theses).] Where significant Institute resources are involved in producing a work (see Section 13.1.2, Significant Use of MIT-Administered Resources), or where there are contractual requirements, MIT and the faculty author share ownership of the work and responsibility for the decisions.

Students should also be recognized as creators and authors of their own material. The academic and financial rights of students should be honored in the creation and dissemination of educational materials.

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