Research and property rights

Property right means that the owner of a physical object can enjoy unlimited access to it, unless otherwise provided 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 right also means that you can usually prevent others from accessing, for example, a building.

Research may give rise to a number of disputes that are of proprietary nature. This may especially involve disputes where someone wants to prevent others from accessing physical data compilations, etc. It could for example include tissue specimens or geological samples, or research data stored in a computer system.

Such disputes can arise during collaborative research, for example when a participant in the collaborative research gets new tenure or otherwise wishes to make individual use of the common developed material. Disputes of this kind can also occur during the course of employment, for example if a researcher is expelled or otherwise terminates his or her employment and subsequently wishes to access the physical material located at 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 which 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 as belonging to the research institution and not the individual researcher.

Please refer to, among others, the ruling of 11 December 1996, by the Court of Aarhus which is discussed in the book by Mads Bryde Andersen and Eva Haus, “Rettighedsproblemer i forskningssamarbejder (IP Rights Issues in Collaborative Research Projects)” p. 18. You can download the Danish version of the book for free from under ”Publications”.

Although researchers may legitimately take their data compilations etc. with them, other rules may stipulate that the researcher cannot dispose freely of the data collection. This can be due to prior agreements or the fact that others have rights to the material. See the other articles on rights to research.

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. See Research collaborations.

If no such agreement has been made, these disputes over property rights should be resolved based on an overall assessment of the circumstances, in particular the conditions for the research collaboration and the practice which the participants in the research collaboration have followed so far. Who actually has access to a data compilation etc. is usually not 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 the book by Mads Bryde Andersen and Eva Haus, ”Rettighedsproblemer i forskningssamarbejder” (IP Rights Issues in Collaborative Research Projects), pp. 19 – 20. You can download the Danish version of the book for free from