The expert’s view

Who owns the research?

It is often relevant to consider the ownership of research. In the case of researchers employed by a research institution or a company, their research could be owned by their employer in whole or in part. This has implications for the employer’s possible use of the research results without the consent of the employed researcher, as well as for the extent of the researcher’s right to use the research.

In research collaborations, questions may arise concerning the rights of the individual researchers to the research and the research data, etc., that is produced and collated as part of the collaboration. If a researcher in such a collaboration gets a new job, can the researcher take research data with him or her? When the collaboration ends, can some of the researchers continue to work on the project without permission from the others? These issues should be addressed in an agreement – see the articles on Agreements on research collaborations and Industrial PhD candidates.

However, the question of “who owns the research” is legally imprecise. The concept of ‘research’ may thus apply to several different kinds of activities and material to which various different types of legal rights may apply, all of which must be taken into consideration when addressing the legal aspects of such conflicts.

Rights to research

Research usually results in the production of something that may be subject to legal protection against unlawful use by others. This legal protection may, in particular, follow from the rules of property law and the rules of intellectual property law (IP). In a number of cases, these rules are supplemented by rules governing the legal protection of trade secrets, duty of confidentiality, etc.

Under property law, the owner of a physical object normally has unlimited right of disposal over it. If you own a house, for example, you can decide who should be allowed to enter it, and you can sell it, lend it out, rent it out, etc. Intellectual property rights (IP rights), on the other hand, provide an exclusive right to exploit works, inventions, etc., in certain ways. Your exclusive right is not related to a physical object but to the “work” or “invention”, etc., as an abstract concept. Hence, while ordinary property rights relate to tangible assets, intellectual property rights relate to intangible assets. Copyrights, patents and trademarks are examples of such intangible assets.

Intellectual property rights and ordinary property rights are governed by separate systems and do not follow each other. If, for example, you walk into a bookstore and buy a book, you acquire ownership of the physical copy of the book you take home. You do not own, however, the copyright to the contents of the book; that remains with the author and the publisher. By virtue of the right of property, the purchaser of the book is largely free to decide what to do with the copy. But you are not allowed to copy it and upload the copy to the web, even if you have the ownership, as that would constitute an infringement of copyright.

Further reading

In these articles, you can read more about the different forms of legal protection of research – and who, in a legal sense, “owns the research results”:

The rules governing the protection of business secrets , etc., are found in different places in Danish law. In particular, reference may be made to:

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