Student Ownership of Intellectual Property
Tennessee Tech University is a student-centered research university that promotes scholarship, innovation and entrepreneurship. Student engagement and opportunity are central to our core beliefs.
The participation of students in entrepreneurship classes and activities, such as the Eagle Works Competition and the iMakerSpace, raises questions about ownership of the resulting intellectual property (IP). Generally, students will own the IP they create when they are solely using Tennessee Tech University resources that are customarily provided, such as office spaces, residence hall rooms, library facilities (including the iMakerSpace), and standard access to computers and networks. However, when students use University facilities, equipment, or funds to develop their IP, the standard University ownership rules apply.
Tennessee Technological University Policy No. 732: Intellectual Property outlines the procedures and guidelines by which the university protects the rights and interests of all parties involved in IP matters, including members of the university community, external sponsors of research, and the public. The university recognizes and encourages student entrepreneurship and innovation by providing various programs, resources, and opportunities. To facilitate such activities, the University may apply a limited exception to its ownership policy with respect to student inventions and business ventures resulting from specific class projects and entrepreneurial activities, subject to certain criteria. In particular, the University may waive its ownership rights in cases where the student invention arises solely from the class or activity and the only University facilities used were those provided for the approved class or activity. However, this exception does not apply if the invention incorporates, depends on, or is derived from other University-owned IP. Moreover, if the class or activity is supported by sponsored sources, such as federal, state, or private grants, programmatic guidelines specified by the funding agency may prohibit such exceptions.
Competition Confidentiality of Inventions and Intellectual Property
The University treats all ideas submitted to the Eagle Works Competition as confidential and implements measures to maintain the confidentiality of team matters. However, the nature of the competition presents limitations to complete confidentiality regarding proprietary information. The University cannot assume responsibility for any proprietary information or IP included in a competition idea or submitted plan. Competitors are solely responsible for safeguarding sensitive materials, including IP, copyright, or patent confidentiality. Judges, mentors, or any University staff associated with the competition will not sign non-disclosure agreements.
Each team is responsible for protecting the IP of their team and establishing protocols defining procedures should the team disband, including appropriate protective provisions. In the absence of adequate IP protection, team members who are concerned about confidentiality are strongly encouraged to register their IP with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) prior to the competition, or to not disclose any information during the competition that qualifies as IP.
Participation in the Competition does not necessarily require the disclosure of IP.
Generally, unless IP is
involved or the idea is a truly novel product, disclosing high-level details without revealing confidential
details (such as an algorithm or recipe) is advantageous. As teams progress in their proposal, pitching
the idea, gathering feedback, and consulting with experts are necessary and valuable components of the
process. In situations where comparable ideas are already in the market, being the first to attract
attention to the idea is beneficial.
Creating a new venture is a complex process that involves negotiations among multiple
We encourage students to consider each team member's role and responsibilities and to reach a
documented agreement (see below) that is equitable to everyone. In the event of disagreements, we
urge students to resolve the issue among the team, as the University does not mediate disputes among
team members. To avoid or mitigate potential issues, students are strongly advised to document their
processes and interactions among team members.
Students are strongly advised to sign a team agreement, which is provided below. The
designed to establish clear protocols and expectations among team members, reduce the likelihood of
disagreements, and facilitate the resolution of any conflicts that may arise during the competition. We
encourage faculty to incorporate the team agreement in their classes as a best practice.
By signing the team agreement, team members acknowledge their roles and responsibilities,
the ownership and use of IP, the division of labor and decision-making, the allocation of resources, the
distribution of rewards and equity, and the management of conflicts. The team agreement also provides
a mechanism for the team to dissolve in an orderly and equitable manner if necessary.
We strongly recommend that all teams complete and sign the agreement as early as possible
competition process to establish a foundation of trust and clear communication among team