Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is an increasingly contentious issue at Canadian universities, the patent/ copyright/ fair use landscape appearing to be in a state of flux legally. SFUFA is in principle committed to the sharing of knowledge freely, and expanding the reach of open access and fair use provisions, but recognizes, too, that in a time of increased commodification of knowledge academic staff must defend their rights over their own intellectual work. Members are strongly encouraged to review any contracts with the University or third parties carefully to ensure their rights as creators and scholars is protected.

The following provides only a brief summary of some of the core principles members ought to consider.

In most workplaces, as a matter of general law, intellectual property produced in the course of employment belongs to the employer. In universities, however, it is generally accepted that an ‘academic exception’ reverses the presumption of ownership – that is, while in other places the presumption is that the employer owns the product of work unless there is an agreement to the contrary, in the university sector the courts will generally presume the creator to be the owner unless there has been an explicit assignment of rights to the university. This is most certainly the case for what might be termed ‘literary works’ – articles, books, conference proceedings, lecture notes and course plans. In those areas where scholarship often takes the form of an invention rather than a literary work, the situation becomes much more complicated, as the law recognizes inventions as potentially commercialized products in which the university, like other employers, has made a specific investment and is entitled to some portion of any profits earned.

As a generality, members can use the following rule of thumb to determine whether intellectual property is fully their own, or might be legitimately open to the university’s interest:

a) books, journal articles, presentations, classroom materials and the like are wholly owned by the member(s) who create them and the university has no claim on these materials and cannot compel them to be used or shared in any particular way;

b) inventions – i.e. anything produced that is under patent rather than copyright – are a distinct category of scholarly production; the fact of their potential commercialization opens patented materials to university interest, and members are required to comply with university policy as regards the patent process, commercialization, and sharing of revenues that may be earned.

Article 18 of the Collective Agreement  and SFU’s Intellectual Property Policy (R,30.03) set out the terms and conditions in force at SFU; members with further questions are strongly encouraged to review the Agreement and the policy in full and contact SFUFA with any questions or concerns.