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Inventorship is specifically defined under U.S. law. An inventor is a person who makes an original, significant intellectual contribution leading to the conception of the invention. This concept is significantly different from authorship on an academic publication.
Technology transfer is a term used to describe a formal transferring of new discoveries and innovations resulting from scientific research conducted at universities to the commercial sector. One way that universities transfer technology is through patenting and licensing new innovations. The major steps in this process include: 1) the disclosure of innovations; 2) patenting the innovation concurrent with publication of scientific research; and 3) licensing the rights to innovations to industry for commercial development.
The term "intellectual property" generally relates to four distinct types of legal protection: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Each type of intellectual property is governed by its own body of federal and/or state law. Intellectual property protection is afforded to a wide range of useful, for example, scientific, engineering and material innovations (patents) distinctive marks for identifying the source of products or services and the name of the provider entity (trademarks), computer software, and other forms of expression that are affixed in tangible medium of expression (copyrights) and know-how and other proprietary innovations that do not fit on other IP-related categories that would have value by not disclosing the innovation to the public (trade secrets).
Intellectual property should be disclosed to the Office of Commercialization and Innovation (OIC) early in the development process. Disclosure to the OIC needs to occur prior to any public disclosure (oral or written) of the information/innovation. In this way, an informed evaluation can be completed for the potential innovation and an appropriate protection and marketing strategy developed, where appropriate.
Public disclosure of an innovation can seriously impact, if not eliminate, any potential patent protection. Laws differ between the U.S. and international patent laws so the OIC evaluates innovations under the most restrictive laws which can result in irrevocably losing patent rights with an inappropriate disclosure.

For the standard type of patent, called a utility patent, an invention must be either an apparatus, a composition of matter, a process, or an article of manufacture (i.e. an artificial, man-made thing rather than an unprocessed, natural object or material). An improved version of previous technology may be patentable, as well as a new use for an existing technology. To be patentable, the invention or discovery must possess:

  • Utility: The patent statute specifies that an invention must be useful; i.e., it has a real-world application.
  • Novelty: The patent must be new, i.e., the exact same thing must not have existed or been done before.
  • Non-Obviousness: Even if novel, the invention must also be different enough from past technology that the average worker in the field would not have come up with the new invention from what was already known. If the invention does not meet this test, it may be rejected as obvious. Remember that the average worker in many scientific fields may be a Ph.D. researcher. In order to meet this requirement, inventors need to be aware of issues related to prior art, barring events, and bar dates.

There are other legal requirements for patentability that relate to the kind and amount of description, language and supporting data that must be present in the patent application itself. If you have questions about these other requirements, please contact someone in OIC.

A patent is a legal monopoly that prevents others from making, using, selling or importing an invention covered by an issued patent. Patents are granted by governments. Generally, patents may be enforced only in the jurisdiction that has granted them.
University-industry partnerships  help to move new discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace faster and more efficiently than can typically be accomplished using only UNCW resources. Industries also typically have an established market presence and UNCW innovations can provide new avenues for distribution of products/processes and/or enhance existing product lines. These partnership may enables a researcher participate in the further development of a product or process.
Software should be disclosed to the OIC early in the development process. Disclosure to the OIC should be made before any public disclosure (oral or written) of the information is made. In this way, an informed evaluation can be completed for the potential invention and an appropriate protection and marketing strategy developed.
The Office of Innovation and Commercialization has been designated as the department to assist and process all University Intellectual Property requests. This includes patenting of University technology, copyrighting of qualifying materials, and trademarks related to University services and/or products.


Copyright protection automatically exists from the moment of creation, and a work is created when it is fixed in a tangible form. Therefore, no publication or registration or other action by the Copyright Office is required to secure a copyright, although certain advantages are retained for registered copyrights, such as the right to seek damages for copyright infringement.
In the absence of a signed and valid confidentiality agreement (see below) or a filed patent application, it is generally not a good idea to make any kind of public disclosure of your potential invention if you believe that the disclosure contains any patentable aspects. What constitutes a public disclosure depends greatly upon the circumstances under which the information is being disclosed and the nature of the disclosure. Accordingly, it is strongly advisable for you to discuss a pending disclosure (including a publication submission, a presentation of a poster, paper or abstract at a meeting, or meeting with a company) prior to the disclosure with someone in the OIC.
A provisional patent application is typically a preliminary application that can be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that establishes the effective filing date of a patent application. The provisional application is not examined by the USPTO, and may remain pending for one year. At the end of this period, UNCW must elect to either abandon the filing or convert the provisional application to a utility patent application. This decision is made by the UNCW IP Committee, with primary input from the inventors and OIC members.
Prior art is any relevant public disclosure (e.g., publication, patent, or presentation) prior to invention that may be considered by the patent office in evaluating patentability of the invention.
Inventions are disclosed by submitting an invention disclosure form (that can be found on the "Resources" page) to the OIC.
Generally, by federal patent law, federal and common law copyright law, federal, common law and state trademark law, federal and state laws regarding trade secrets and other laws related to businesses and contracts.
Generally speaking, a license is a legally binding, written document in which one party, having definable rights in a property, transfers or grants all or some part of those rights to another entity for some type of consideration.
Generally, intellectual property developed by an employee of UNCW or student attending UNCW through academic-related activities, or invented at UNCW facilities under the supervision of UNCW personnel is owned by UNCW. Each inventor is required to assign his or her rights in the intellectual property to UNCW. There are exceptions to this general rule that will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. One notable exception relates to copyrights for books drafted by UNCW faculty. Please refer to UNCW’s copyright policy for additional information.
License negotiations are handled by the staff of the OIC.
A copyright is the grant of protection by the laws of the United States to the authors of 'original works' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural and certain other intellectual works, and is available for both published and unpublished works. An owner has the exclusive right to authorize others to reproduce the work; create derivative works; distribute copies of the work; perform the copyrighted work publicly, display the work publicly, and if it is a sound recording, perform the work publicly. Software may be copyrighted, but may also, in certain circumstances, be protected by a patent. Common law copyright protection is also afforded to such authors merely by providing notice on copyrighted material, typically using the following footnote: “© author’s name, year or years”.
A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is an agreement whereas one party agrees to provide another party with its materials (frequently, for example, chemical or biological) for research or evaluative purposes. MTAs should always be considered when conducting any outside collaborations with industry or other academic institutions. MTAs are typically used to protect materials that may be proprietary and/or embody a trade secret. Please contact the OIC to discuss, prepare or review a third party MTA.


UNCW pays for all costs associated with the preparation, prosecution, issuance and maintenance of the patent. UNCW seeks reimbursement of patent costs through out-licensing.
Royalties earned by academic institutions are used to help advance scientific research and education through reinvestment in the academic enterprise in addition to remuneration being received by the inventor/creator of a commercialized product/process. Please refer to the UNCW Patent policy for additional distribution information.
Like any invention, software is an asset that has value to the University and to its author(s). Even simple software codes can have value depending upon its commercial applicability. Software code is typically protectable under copyright law, but may be patentable under certain circumstances (when software is associated with an operational machine including, for example, robotics).