Intellectual Property Guidelines for Graduate Students & Supervisors

Revised 2024

SGS Intellectual Property Guidance for Students and Supervisors

Intellectual property (IP) is a product of intellectual or creative activity that can be protected under the law to some extent. Understanding IP rights and ownership is important for all graduate students and supervisors. Since graduate students can occupy multiple roles and work on multiple research projects, understanding the IP implications of graduate student work can be challenging. This guidance is intended to direct graduate students and supervisors to appropriate resources to support their understanding of IP rights and relevant policies at the University of Toronto. SGS encourages students and supervisors to review relevant sections of the Vice-President Research & Innovation website and complete relevant modules in the Intellectual Property Education Program and the Intellectual Property Modules for course and co-curricular activities, before beginning their work together.

Graduate students and their supervisors need to understand which policies apply to the IP arising from their work. The applicable policies can be dictated by factors such as the student’s role in the project, the location where they complete their work, and their funding sources. There is considerable variation in research practices across disciplines, which can affect policy implementation. Specific agreements may also be in place to govern IP ownership and rights related to graduate student work. Agreements with IP implications include, for example, employment agreements, funding or sponsorship agreements, collaboration agreements, and affiliation agreements with hospitals and research institutes.

Graduate students may produce IP as students in a course, as scholars working with their thesis supervisor, as employees of the University (e.g., teaching assistant, research assistant), or as employees of an affiliated hospital or research institute. This means different conditions affecting IP rights will apply depending on the specific student’s circumstances. Further, many graduate students work in team environments or with collaborators, which can also introduce complexity when determining IP rights.

Below we cover some common questions, but for any specific queries about IP involving a graduate student, SGS recommends that the first point of contact be the student’s supervisor. A graduate unit head or their designate can provide additional advice. If further assistance is required, the Innovations & Partnerships Office (IPO) can be contacted to provide expert advice on matters relating to IP policy and rights at the University. If students or supervisors are based at an affiliated hospital or research institute, the relevant office at that hospital or institute will provide advice.

What University of Toronto policies are relevant to questions about IP rights?

Two University policies govern the rights in IP created by members of the University community: the Copyright Policy and the Inventions Policy. Both policies are administered by the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation.

Copyright protects original literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic works in a variety of forms, including written materials and computer software. Copyright does not protect ideas, but rather the expression of such ideas. The Copyright Policy applies to all works in which copyright subsists, except for computer software not designed for instructional purposes, which falls under the Inventions Policy. For information related to ownership of copyright material, and potential revenue sharing obligations, please refer to this webpage on understanding the Copyright Policy in commercialization. Students working at an affiliated hospital should refer to hospital policies, noting that at affiliated hospitals and research institutes, ownership of a thesis, academic publication, teaching material, and instructional software are usually similar, if not the same as the University’s policies.

Patents protect inventions – that is, creations or discoveries, which are new, not obvious, and useful. What makes an invention “new” is that it has not been disclosed publicly prior to the filing of a patent application. If it has been disclosed in an article, a seminar, or even in a conversation not covered by a confidentiality agreement before that filing, it will not qualify for a patent in most countries. The University Inventions Policy applies to all inventions (patentable or not) and includes all computer software not designed for instructional purposes, research data or research tools, and all proprietary information associated with any of these items. Under the Inventions Policy, in most instances a graduate student working at the University (not at a hospital) would jointly own an invention with the University and their co-inventors. At most affiliated hospitals, the hospital would own the invention.

What rights does my supervisor have to discoveries or inventions I make?

This depends on the individual circumstances and the applicable governing law, policy, or convention. For example, the determination of who is an inventor or co-inventor of an invention will depend on patent law. University or hospital policies will determine who owns the invention. If a research sponsor has rights to the results of the research, this may determine what freedom inventors have, though rights ceded to a research sponsor will always be in line with institutional policies, such as the Publication Policy, Statement of Institutional Purpose, and the School of Graduate Studies Calendar.

Your supervisor and others may have claims on the IP rights relating to your work as a graduate student. This is something you should discuss with your supervisor prior to starting work that could lead to creations or inventions that would be accorded IP rights. It is important to clarify IP rights prior to the submission of papers for publication, disclosure of research findings at scientific meetings, or in any other way that places a creation or invention in the public domain. As a student, you will usually have no claim to your supervisor’s or instructor’s work unless you are a joint author or joint inventor. If your work was done as part of your supervisor’s ongoing research program, it should also be expected that the results can be used, with appropriate attribution, in furthering the research activities of the supervisor and others in the research team (e.g., in publications, presentations, grant applications, reports).

Graduate students in professional master’s programs may not have a supervisor in the same way as students in research programs. If this applies to you and your research results in publishable data, a patentable innovation, or other IP, you should contact your graduate chair or graduate coordinator to determine the procedure and ownership of IP in your situation.

What about the data produced in my research project?

Raw data are not normally considered to be IP in law. They are neither an invention (i.e., patentable) nor an expression of an idea (i.e., a copyright work); however, research data are an invention under the Inventions Policy. Thus, in most cases, research data are jointly owned by the researcher and the University, which means that both have the right to use the data. A project sponsor may have rights to data under a sponsored research agreement, or may require that data be made broadly available through public data archiving or other methods.

Whether or not you have rights in the data, the equipment on which your data and results are recorded – notebooks, tapes, computer hard-drives and other media – may be the property of the University. Data from human research participants are also governed by human research participant protocols and privacy legislation, which may place restrictions on use of the data, including its removal from the University. Students must consult with their supervisors before sharing, downloading, removing, or deleting data, or removing equipment or media on which data are stored from University premises. See further information on research data management from the University of Toronto Libraries.

Data from collaborative research projects are an important resource not just for you, but for the entire research team. Where a supervisor or someone else jointly owns data or results that have been published, you may incorporate them in your thesis with permission of the other co-owners and you will own copyright in your thesis as a whole. Permission to use data in your thesis does not give you the right to use the data for other purposes, and you must always appropriately attribute the data source.

By submitting your thesis for academic credit, you represent that overall, it is your own original work. Anyone making use of the ideas or contents of your thesis should reference it appropriately. Similarly, to the extent that your thesis includes publications arising from your research team or quotes major sections of publications, it may be necessary to obtain permission from the copyright holder. This may be the author, or it may be the publisher of an academic journal. In all situations, you should seek guidance from your supervisor prior to publication, and conform to accepted practices in your academic discipline with respect to quotation of material from external sources.

I work at a hospital or institute affiliated with the University. Which IP policies do I follow?

If you are working in an affiliated hospital, you should disclose your invention to the hospital. If the disclosure indicates that you made use of another institution’s facilities or funds, the institution receiving your disclosure will send a copy of it, in confidence, to the other institution. Under the University’s affiliation agreements with the hospitals, the policy of the institution on whose premises the invention was made governs. If an invention is made on the premises of both institutions or an agreement cannot be reached on which policy applies, the policy of the institution that has provided the greater proportionate share of the salaries of the inventors governs.

The hospital and the University (or the University inventors, if they have taken assignment from the University) may own an invention jointly in some circumstances. In those cases, a joint owners’ agreement is negotiated and the owner whose inventors have made the predominant inventive contribution normally takes the lead on commercialization.

What if my supervisor and I disagree about some aspect of IP rights on my project?

If concerns arise about IP, you and your supervisor should first try to resolve any concerns amicably. For additional support, contact your graduate coordinator or graduate chair. If more help is needed, you can contact the appropriate Associate Dean or Vice-Dean of your Faculty. Your graduate unit may also consult with the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation. For further support regarding the management of IP, copyright, invention disclosure, and patents, contact the Innovations, Partnerships, & Entrepreneurship Unit in the Division of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation at

Additional Resources

For current policies, guidelines, forms and useful website links, please visit the website of the Division of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation at the University of Toronto.

Copyright Policy
Inventions Policy
Publication Policy
Inventor’s Guide
Start-up Guide
Partnerships Guide
Intellectual Property Modules from U of T Digital Learning Innovation, Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education and U of T Entrepreneurship
Guidelines for Personal Ownership of Inventions
Canadian Intellectual Property Office
University of Toronto Entrepreneurship Intellectual Property Education Program