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Intellectual property guidelines


Each and every intellectual property issue is unique, and must be carefully considered with regard to its specific circumstances. When students or supervisors are trying to determine their intellectual property rights, they must, at a minimum, consider the following:

  1. Athabasca University policies and procedures (the “AU Policies and Procedures”);
  2. Regulations and professional codes of conduct governing the practice of their academic discipline;
  3. Intellectual property law; and
  4. Third party agreements.

It is the responsibility of every student and supervisor to be aware of his or her applicable rights and restrictions under each of the above listed resources, and to ensure that his or her research is conducted in accordance with the requirements stipulated therein.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies strongly recommends that consideration and discussion between the student and their supervisor occurs before work begins on the thesis/dissertation or other research projects. Clear expectations respecting ownership of intellectual property rights should be clearly established.

Athabasca University (the “AU”) has policies that deal at length with specific aspects of intellectual property and the conduct of research. These policies can be obtained through the AU’s Office of the University Secretariat website or from your graduate department.


The intent of this page is to identify and provide clarification on common issues associated with intellectual property that can arise between students and their supervisors during the students’ graduate education at AU. The information provided herein is directed towards: 1) graduate students, 2) faculty members who may be the graduate students’ supervisors for academic work, and 3) faculty members who may be the graduate students’ employers on a research project. These guidelines are provided to help students and supervisors determine their ownership rights to intellectual property created while attending AU. The term “thesis” is used herein to refer to both a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation (see Appendix A for definitions of terms used in this document).

Appendix A: Definitions

Authorship: Work that has been performed by the individual or which they have substantially contributed.

Intellectual Property: Intellectual property refers to intangible creations of the mind, such as: inventions, literary and artistic works and symbols, names and images.

Copyright: the exclusive right or monopoly of the creator, or subsequent copyright holder to reproduce a work, and to prevent others from making copies of the protected work for a specified time.

Creative Commons: a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

DTheses repository: a repository that graduate students submit their thesis or dissertation electronically to, which is dedicated to collecting, storing, preserving, and making accessible digital versions of the theses and dissertations produced by AU graduate students.

Invention: means a solution to a specific problem in the field of technology and includes: machines, products, or processes.

Patent: is a temporary, limited legal right granted to an inventor by a government to prevent others from manufacturing, selling, licensing or using the inventor’s invention.

Research Funding Agreement: means a written agreement entered into to provide or receive funding to facilitate research.

Supervisor: refers to a student’s thesis or project supervisor or co-supervisor, or someone for whom the student has been hired to conduct research, as in an employee-employer relationship. This person may or may not be an AU faculty member.

Appendix B: Sample Letter of Understanding between the Graduate Student and the Supervisor regarding intellectual property


The purpose of this letter of understanding is to confirm our conversation regarding my expectations of our roles in possible publication and ownership of any of the intellectual property that is developed as a result of our work together. It should prevent any misunderstandings that might otherwise arise. Read this carefully, then sign one of the copies and return it to me.

Based on our discussion, here are the details of your position, our relationship, and the possible intellectual property outcomes.
[details of TAs, RAs, employee/employer; supervisor/student, etc.]

It is important that you publish the relevant results of your research from your thesis or dissertation. This will be done under our joint authorship,
[using discipline norms for the order of names].

Publication is important for many reasons. If there are any manuscripts that are under review by a publisher when you graduate, you will have one calendar year to deliver to me a draft manuscript. If, at the end of that time, you have not produced a manuscript, I will produce the paper, but as a senior author.

You will be a co-author of presentations at scientific meetings that feature your work in a prominent way. I hope there will be opportunities for you to present the research, but on many occasions I am invited to summarize the work of our lab at a conference or in a book chapter. Given the number of people involved in the work, I do not usually include as co-authors in such presentations all the people who have contributed, but I always acknowledge the specific contributions of the individuals concerned.

We all share responsibility for the ethical conduct of research. You should familiarize yourself with AU policies dealing with research, patents and licensing, conflicts of interest and scholarly integrity. While it is important to have these understandings, I very much look forward to working with you. I hope that our relationship is always one of mutual respect. My objective is to encourage your intellectual development to the very limit of your capabilities.

Yours sincerely,
I have read the contents of this letter and understand them.
Student's Signature: X

Appendix D: Resources

Canadian Association for Graduate Schools

Canadian Intellectual Property Office

Copyright Act

Creating a Letter of Understanding for Advisors/Supervisors and Graduate Students (2012) (PDF - 75KB)

Faculty of Graduate Studies

Tri-Council Policy: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans

Intellectual Property Institute of Canada

Christopher S. Wilson, Intellectual Property for Solicitors – 2010 update paper 1.1: Overview of Intellectual Property, Continuing Legal Education of British Columbia, November 2010.

David Vaver, Intellectual Property Law, 2d ed (Toronto: Irwin Law Inc., 2011)

Henri Charmasson, John Buchaca, Neil Milton, Diana Byron, Canadian Intellectual Property Law for Dummies, special ed (Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2009)

World Intellectual Property Organization. What is Intellectual Property? Online WIPO

World Intellectual Property Organization, Intellectual Property Handbook, online WIPO

Appendix E: Acknowledgements

Consultation was sought from the following groups and individuals at AU: Deans, Chair of CDE, OPVPA, Copyright office, AUFA, OAVP Research, and AUGSA.

University of Manitoba Faculty of Graduate Studies (2009). Intellectual Property Guidelines for Graduate Students at the University of Manitoba.

University of Alberta, Research Services Office, OVP Research, & FGSR. (2004). Intellectual Property Guidelines.

University of Calgary Faculty of Graduate Studies Advisory Committee. (1994). Graduate Studies FAQs regarding the University of Calgary’s Intellectual Property Policy.

University of Saskatchewan, Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research. (2012). Policies and Procedures Manual.

University of Toronto, Faculty of Graduate Studies. (2007). Intellectual property Guidelines for Graduate Students and Supervisors at the University of Toronto.

University of British Columbia, Faculty of Graduate Studies

Updated September 26, 2023 by Digital & Web Operations (