Rights in University Research : A Guide For McGill Students

Consider the following scenario: You are a graduate student studying Music at the University of Concerto under the supervision of Mr. Trebleclef. Mr. Trebleclef helps you create what the Montreal Gazette has deemed “the most outstanding musical work since Beethoven.” They name you as the creator of the work. What rights does Mr. Trebleclef have to the music in question? Does the University have any rights to the music in question? What if the University funded the project or provided you and Mr. Trebleclef with the necessary equipment to engage in this project?

The scenario above confirms how complex intellectual property rights can become in the context of university research and inventions. Nevertheless, it is important for students to understand these rights as best they can.

Most universities provide their graduate students and employees with the university’s Intellectual Property Policy (“Policy”) upon their commencement with the university. Each university has its own unique Policy but there may be overlap from one institution to the next.

Let us examine McGill University’s Policy. McGill recognizes intellectual property as “the product of a cooperative relationship among academic staff, administrative and support staff, students, and the University.”1 This is further elaborated in Section 4.1 of the Policy,2 which states: “In relation to any work, the author owns copyright;” therefore, they, as the author, have the right to determine how the work is disseminated and to receive income from the work’s commercialization. Any and all authors of this work have this right and oftentimes, there is more than one author because of the cooperative nature of university work.

How does the University determine authorship? McGill turns to the Copyright Act (the Act)(the Act). For example, under Section 13(3) of the Act: “Where the author of a work was in the employment of some other person under a contract of service or apprenticeship and the work was made in the course of his employment by that person, the person by whom the author was employed shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright.”3 Applied to the scenario described earlier, had you been creating the music work specifically as a Research Assistant to Mr. Trebleclef, the work might be deemed created in the course of employment, making Mr. Trebleclef the first author/owner of any copyright in the work.

A brochure created by McGill University provides further guidelines for co-authorship. Co-authorship can and should be recognized where “the individuals have participated in a significant way in at least two of the following aspects of the research: (1) conception of idea and design of experiment, (2) actual execution of experiment or hands-on lab work, (3) analysis and interpretation of data, and/or (4) actual writing of the manuscript.”4

All this to say that intellectual property rights are contextual in nature—the context will therefore determine who has claims to your work. Should a dispute arise, however, be sure to refer to the university’s Policy and do not hesitate to get clarification from your supervisor, any thesis advisory committee, or the graduate coordinator of your department. These individuals should be familiar with the Policy and should be able to help you navigate any jargon or contexts you are unsure about.


[1] McGill University Policy on Intellectual Property,http://www.mcgill.ca/files/international/ipcorrectfinal.pdf, s. 1.

[2] Ibid, s. 4.1.

[3]Copyright Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, s. 13 (3).

[4] Office of Technology Transfer. 2004. Student Guide to Intellectual Property at McGill University, McGill University, http://www.mcgill.ca/files/ott/studentIPguide-v9.pdf.