Understanding intellectual property for researchers

As a University researcher you may create or co-create valuable Intellectual Property (IP). Here’s how to know who owns the IP, and how and when to protect it.

What is intellectual property?

Intellection Property – or IP – describes creations of the mind that can be legally owned and protected. Your IP can include the subject matter, methods and tools you create as part of your research.

Examples of IP include:

  • Literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works
  • Field and laboratory notebooks
  • Cinematographic and multimedia works
  • Performances of performing artists, sound recordings and broadcast
  • Patentable and non-patentable inventions
  • Registered and unregistered designs, plant varieties and topographies
  • Circuit layouts
  • Registered and unregistered trademarks, service marks and commercial names and designations
  • Other databases, computer software and related material
  • Scientific discoveries
  • Know-how and other proprietary information.

Who owns IP?

IP ownership depends on the type of IP, the relationship its creators hold with the University, the existence of any legal agreements in which IP ownership is specifically defined, and the University Statute.

The University encourages an entrepreneurial culture. So, we share any profits from commercialising IP between all IP creators.

Staff intellectual property

The University owns the IP you create as a staff member in the course of, or incidental to, your employment, except for scholarly works. If we make revenue from commercialising the IP you create, we share this revenue with you as the creator.

Graduate research intellectual property

As a graduate researcher, you may be involved in creating IP under a number of different scenarios which could impact IP ownership. For more information, see understanding Intellectual Property for students.

Using third-party intellectual property

Before using IP owned by an external party, including collaborators in a research project or in developing a software or multimedia product for example, the University may need to have that party's permission.

As a researcher, you must carefully document  the date and conditions of use of all third-party IP. That way, we can help you determine if its use affects the ownership of any IP you create.

Protecting IP

If your research involves developing a unique or novel solution with potential to make impact or be commercialised, it’s likely you have created IP worth protecting.

It’s important that you tell us about it by completing an IP Disclosure and discuss the best pathways to achieve impact from your IP and ways to protect it.

Different types of IP can be protected in different ways.


The most formal registration process to acknowledge your creative intellectual property is a patent. A patent is a right that is granted by a government “for any device, substance, method or process, that is new inventive and useful".


Know-how is valuable practical knowledge, specific technical skills and experience that one party has developed and has treated confidentially. Often, it is not even written down.

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets refer to confidential and valuable technical information, like experimental techniques, results, recipes, formulas and processes, or operational information like research strategy, customer databases and competitor analysis. Trade secrets can be shared under the protection of a Confidential Disclosure Agreement, or converted to another type of intellectual property, like a patent or copyright.


Copyright protects the way ideas are expressed and it is created when a work is fixed into its final form. This could be software, a book, a play, or a piece of music. It does not protect the underlying idea that is being expressed. Copyright protection is automatic in Australia.

Registered Design

While a patent protects the way something works, a Registered Design protects the way a product looks. A design may consist of three-dimensional features, like the shape of an article, or two-dimensional features including patterns, lines or colour.

Plant Breeders Rights

Plant Breeders Rights are exclusive commercial rights protecting new varieties of plants, like tastier strawberries or more vibrantly-coloured roses.


Trademarks are a badge of origin. They are a unique way of identifying products and services offered by different businesses and organisations. They can protect a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture or movement.

Contact us

Understanding IP and how to protect it can be complex.

The University’s Knowledge and Technology Transfer team can answer any questions you have.

Not sure if you have an idea worth protecting? Speak with your Faculty Business Development Manager who can guide you.

First published on 7 March 2023.

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