Lawyer warns Scots of intellectual property minefield

November 26, 1999

A specialist lawyer has warned Scotland's universities to guard against complacency over the ownership of potentially lucrative ideas from staff and students.

Fiona Nicolson, who heads the intellectual property department at Maclay Murray and Spens, warned a recent meeting of university managers that while institutions are under increasing pressure to commercialise research, some still give too little thought to protecting ownership of ideas.

Ms Nicolson said that the basic legal position was that intellectual property created by an employee in the course of normal duties would belong to the employer. But wording of job descriptions could be crucial and there were cases of employers being deprived of intellectual property rights because they had failed to describe the employee's duties carefully and clearly.

"In one case a management consultant was asked to deliver a series of public lectures by his employer. A book containing the lectures was subsequently published and it was held that the copyright did not belong to the employer as the employee was required to deliver lectures, but not to write them down," she said.

But she also warned that the law prohibited employers from imposing contractual terms that diminished employees' intellectual property rights. And the law only covered relationships between management and staff.

"If an academic institution wants to be the legal owner of the intellectual property created by students or consultants, it will have to enter into a specific written agreement with them," she said.

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