Academics need to decide on copyright before they start research to avoid a rising tide of disputes, the Association of University Teachers has warned.
The union is in talks with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals over producing a draft model to resolve rows over the names attached to research publications or patents.
Copyright problems are being made ever more complicated because of increasing collaboration between contract and staff res-earchers and between researchers in different institutions.
Copyright law states that the authors of a scholarly article reporting research results are not those who did the research but those who expressed its results in literary form.
This means that one person can have the idea, secure funding for it, design the practical techniques for pursuing it, make the observations and tell the results and their significance to the writer, but it will be the writer or the writer's employer who gets the copyright and the right to keep the researcher's name off the published work.
New guidelines produced by the AUT say that in reality a mixture of informal understandings usually results in scholarly works being credited to researchers as well.
The guidelines warn: "Increasingly, however, perhaps because of the ever greater career importance in the academic world of securing credit for research and scholarship, disputes are arising over the attribution of rights, particularly the right to be identified as author."
Paul Cottrell, AUT assistant general secretary, said he dealt recently with a dispute in which someone had continued for the Medical Research Council research begun in another institution abroad.
The researcher eventually came up with an idea that could potentially be used in hospitals all over the world, at which point his former institution became interested.
Complicated rows over when exactly he had had the idea, whether he had told anyone and what the MRC knew about it ensued. Eventually it was decided, not without a struggle, that all parties should share the income.
Laura Barker, geology librarian at Imperial College, London, and a member of the AUT national executive intellectual property working group, said: "It tends to be that people get very enthusiastic about their research, and problems only come through at the end. We hope that by negotiation with the CVCP we are able to set in place procedures before problems arise."
She said one of the difficulties was that the research assessment exercise encouraged people to publish their research quickly, while the patenting process encouraged them to delay.
A spokesman for the CVCP said: "We have been alerted to the problems associated with copyright and have been discussing them with the AUT. We are now waiting for further work by them."
The AUT is already working on a model agreement to be developed with the CVCP.