Research and property rights

Property rights mean that the owner of a physical object can enjoy unlimited access to it, unless otherwise determined by law. The owner of a house can for example decide who can enter it, and you can sell it, lend it out, rent it out, etc. Property rights also mean that you can usually prevent others from, for example, accessing a building.

Research may give rise to a number of disputes relating to property rights. These may especially involve disputes in which someone wishes to prevent others from accessing physical data collections, such as tissue specimens, geological samples or research data stored in a computer system.

Such disputes can arise during collaborative research, for example when a participant in the research obtains a new position or otherwise wishes to make individual use of the jointly developed material. Disputes of this kind can also occur in the course of employment, for example if a researcher is fired or otherwise terminates his or her employment and subsequently wishes to access the physical material located with the former employer. These situations are described in detail in the following.

Terms of employment

If there is no agreement to the contrary, a researcher may in some cases take material that he or she has collected and processed as part of his or her research, including own data compilations, etc. However, this does not always apply. In some cases, a data compilation, for example, may be considered to belong to the research institution rather than the individual researcher.

See inter alia the judgement of 11 December 1996 by the Court of Aarhus, which is discussed in the book by Mads Bryde Andersen and Eva Hau, Rettighedsproblemer i forskningssamarbejder (IP Rights Issues in Collaborative Research Projects) p. 18.

Even if a researcher may legitimately take their data compilations, etc., other rules may stipulate that the researcher may not freely dispose over the data collection. This may be due to prior agreements or to the fact that others have rights to the material. See the articles on access to and rights to data and research data management.

Research collaborations

In collaborative research projects, the question of title and rights to joint data compilations, etc., should always be determined by agreement so that this kind of dispute can be avoided.

If no such agreement has been entered into, these disputes over property rights should be resolved on the basis of an overall assessment of the circumstances, in particular the conditions for the research collaboration and the practice the participants in the research collaboration have previously followed. Whether or not someone happens to have the right of disposal over a data compilation, etc., is not usually the decisive factor, since in many cases it will be more or less random who – when the dispute arises – is able to “monopolise” the common data compilation, etc.

You can read more about this in the book by Mads Bryde Andersen and Eva Hau, Rettighedsproblemer i forskningssamarbejder (IP Rights Issues in Collaborative Research Projects), pp. 19-20.

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