Understanding Intellectual Property (IP) for students

As a student, your ideas, research or projects may result in valuable Intellectual Property (IP). Here’s how to know who owns the IP, as well as how and when to protect it and what support is available to help you.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual 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 studies or research.

Examples 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 and IP Policy.

The University encourages an entrepreneurial culture and shares any net proceeds from commercialising IP between all IP creators.

Student intellectual property

As a student, you own any IP you solely create, unless it relates to teaching material or is created under a "contracted agreement".

The University owns the IP created if you are involved in an activity that is governed under an agreement between the University and another party regarding the IP (contracted agreement) which can include research contracts, student deeds and other agreements covering student placements, and research that is externally funded, such as a Government or industry grant. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Legal Department can provide advice on intellectual property matters.

In addition, graduate researchers may also be required to complete an IP assignment to the University in certain circumstances. This includes where the research is covered by a contracted agreement or where the research is collaborative (involving more than one person), and/or relies on using background IP (from the University).

For more information, refer to the IP Guide for Graduate Researchers.

Ownership of IP you create or co-create also depends on:

  • If you are also employed by the University
  • In all cases, students, including graduate researchers, retain copyright in their scholarly works, including publications and theses.

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 document the date and conditions of use of all third-party IP so we can help you determine if its use affects the ownership of any IP you create.

Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property

The University recognises and respects Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.

When conducting and conceiving of research with respect to Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property and Indigenous Knowledge Holders, Staff, Honorary Appointees, Visitors and Students are expected to refer to the Charter for Research with Indigenous Knowledge Holders.

How to protect your IP

If you’ve come up with a unique or novel idea or solution that has the potential to make impact  or be commercialised, then it could be IP worth protecting.

Different types of IP can be protected in different ways.


The most formal registration process to acknowledge your creative intellectual property is with a patent. A patent is a right that is granted by a government for inventions being “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, and often not even written down.

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets refer to confidential and valuable technical information like experimental 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 is created when the expression is made into a work that is fixed in its final form, like software, a book, a play, or a piece of music. It does not protect the underlying idea being expressed. Copyright protection is automatic in Australia. The University’s Copyright Office can provide further guidance, resources, and practical examples.

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 vibrant rose flowers.


Trademarks are a badge of origin, a unique way of identifying products and services offered by different businesses and organisations, as the products and services may not be unique. They can give protection for a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture or a movement.

If you’ve come up with a unique or novel idea or solution that has the potential to make impact  or be commercialised, then it could be IP worth protecting.

Contact us

Understanding IP and how to protect it can be complex.

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

If you are a graduate researcher, speak with your supervisor in the first instance, to understand the specific IP arrangements that apply to your research project.

First published on 11 August 2023.

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