Public Lab Research note

Intellectual Property Primer (work in progress)

by Bronwen | October 21, 2014 00:22 21 Oct 00:22 | #11285 | #11285

This is a bit of a work in progress, but I wanted to start a page to set out some of the things that are worth knowing about how different kinds of intellectual property might come into play with some of our work.

Questions about copyright, licensing, OA publishing, or other IP issues? Happy to discuss!

This information applies to intellectual property in the United States.

Kinds of Intellectual Property


Definition adapted from US Copyright Office: A form of protection for "original works of authorship", including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. "Copyright" literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners.

Also good to know: Copyright is attached to work as soon as it is created, there is no need to register content. Copyright holders can transfer copyright to another entity either temporarily or permanently.

Exceptions: Works for hire assign rights to an employer rather than a creator. Works in the Public Domain have no copyright restrictions. Orphan works are covered by copyright, but a copyright holder may not be identifiable.


A trademark protects image/identity. While names and titles are not eligible for copyright, an entity can register a name, logo, or elements of brand identity, which would prohibit other entities from using the same or similar elements for their own uses. This is typically understood to apply to players in competition with the trademark holder, unrelated or coincidental uses of trademarked elements may not be prohibited.


Patents protect inventions, which might include products or processes. Patents are ostensibly granted to things that are unique or original in some way. While several people might come up with an idea at the same time, patents are granted to the first registrant, and prevent others from using that object or process without permission from the patent holder. Designs/schematics that are registered with the patent office are available to the public. Some companies keep their designs or product designs secret, known as trade secrets instead. Example: the recipe for Coke-a-Cola could be patented, but is not.

Scholarly Communications and Open Access

Publishing with Open Access Licenses SPARC Author's Rights Addendum

Open Databases for Science and Tech Research

Elsevier Open Journals Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) Eprint Network Google Scholar OpenDOAR

PubMed Central

Science Direct Creative Commons Search

Other Organizations


@bronwen this is so awesome. we have this page going: but i'm thinking you could make another wiki page with all this content that you posted in your note so it can be added to.

Randomly, i spent all day Monday with lawyers who work on free and open source licensing for software and hardware. They are worried about gaps facing sensor technology specifically, but generally their paper did a fantastic job of going through existing licenses and standards organizations (I learned stuff):

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Ok, awesome! I'm not sure why I didn't start this as a wiki page to start with. Will move it over to the wikis now. I've started with research and publishing just because that's what I'm the most grounded in, but def want to open it up to everyone to develop content.

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how about /wiki/ip ?

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Yes! Will do. Will also break this up a bit to have separate pages for policy/research tools.

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