Colleges are working to protect patent, copyright on student innovations
As innovation becomes core to the college experience, campuses are stepping up to safeguard the intellectual property rights (IPR) of their students.
Whether it is a physical product, an image, or a piece of text, if a project is novel, a student can now apply for patents and copyright, with some campuses setting up dedicated IPR cells to offer legal counselling, streamline paperwork, and help students identify their own IP while respecting the IP of others.
“IPR can provide security and monopoly privilege to the institute and the student to develop such ideas commercially,” says Chaitali Chinubhai, a research associate with the IPR cell of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.
The copyright or patent is typically owned jointly by the student and the institute. The college is usually the applicant and the student, the inventor, so inventorship credits accrue to the student.
“IPR cells help students display their work and attract potential buyers of technology, ideas or products, and help in the commercialisation of a product,” says professor Pritam Deb, coordinator for the IPR Cell at Tezpur University.
PLUGGING THE GAPS
In the absence of separate IPR laws for universities, campuses are drafting their own policies; keeping in view the objectives of the National IPR Policy adopted by the Government of India in 2016. One of the prerequisites for filing, according to the IPR law, is that a work should be novel, ie new, non-obvious and with tangible outcomes or utilities.
The type of IPR is chosen depending on the type of product. For instance, if it’s a material product or a new process, it comes under patents. Aesthetic and design-based innovations as well as films and video come under the Indian Copyright Act of 1957.
“India follows a first-to-file rule, so it’s always better to e-register and then proceed with the work, even if only a prototype is ready,” says Runjhun Tandon, assistant dean and head of the IPR Cell at Lovely Professional University. “Novelty should not be lost even by prior publication in a journal.”
Rubiya Khursheed, 27, a research student at LPU, for instance, has filed for a patent for her project under the international Patent Corporation Treaty (PCT), with her filing currently under review. PCT is an international treaty that could protect her innovation for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes using a curcumin formulation, across 145 countries.
“It acts as both an asset and a protection to students,” she says. “It also is an added advantage for placements and other applications on campus.”
Her university provides support for patent searching, drafting and filing. Seed money is also provided for developing prototypes and validating research.
“We are now exploring commercialisation possibilities with nutraceuticals and herbal companies, so that the innovation can be made available to the masses,” says Tandon.
TIME AND MONEY
Securing intellectual property rights is not an easy process, though. “Some patents are registered within a month of application, many others take up to four months, depending on the queries between the student, attorney, patent officer and faculty member,” says Jitendra Kumar Pandey, associate dean, research and development, at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES), Dehradun. “The final granting of a patent can take years.”
For Mohit Khatri, who is studying mechanical engineering at UPES, just filing for a patent for new infrastructure for charging electric vehicles took him about two months.
“It’s a long-drawn-out process, but doing this has helped me push the envelope and become more industry-ready,” he says. “The university helped me with all the processes, from filing to responding to queries from the patent officer. Expenses were also borne entirely by the institute.”
Typically, universities also pay renewal fees for half the 20-year life of a patent.
“We also always share royalties on inventions produced by students on campus using university facilities,” says professor Deb.
Terms of sharing differ across universities. In cases where students leave the campus, or move out of the country, the college carries out the rest of the patent registration process with the help of an authority letter from the student.
The cost of applying for a patent typically ranges from Rs 4,000 to Rs 9,000.
“However, one needs to request for examination of the patent and attend to the First Examination Report, which has other associated costs,” says Deb. Every 10 or 20 years from the date of filing, the patent owner must also apply for renewal of the patent, or risk it lapsing.