According to Jonathan Roberts at OTTED, here are the issues to consider:

Ownership of code (and other work products” basically comes down to whether or not the code was written as a work-for-hire. 

If a person is hired specifically to write code, whether he is working on a grant or not, UH owns the code; e.g. programmers coding an administrative application for UH produce nothing but works-for-hire. Other employees who aren’t specifically hired to write code, like faculty members — who are hired to conduct research, teach, and engage in community service — own any code they write on their own initiative as their “exclusive literary property”, as the Board of Regents Patent and Copyright Policy so quaintly phrases it. 

This doesn’t mean the UH can never get its hands on computer code written by the faculty, since Executive Policy E5.5OO, Administration of the Patent and Copyright Policy also provides that works-for-hire also include “manuscripts or materials produced by persons … released from other work to produce such materials”. So don’t ask for release time to produce that best-selling computer program or textbook or you’ll confuse everyone. 

Moreover, the Executive Policy also provides that “rights of faculty and staff” to copyright ownership are “subject to any restrictions imposed by outside sponsoring or funding organizations.” So, if a faculty member or anyone else works on a funded grant that provides for the delivery of copyright material — whether that material is just the final report on the project or a computer program — that person gives UH at least a license to the copyrights (i.e the separable rights to display, reproduce, distribute, and adapt the material) necessary to fulfill the institution’s obligations under the research agreement and at most ownership of the copyright material. 

As far as Master’s theses and Doctoral dissertations go, UH makes no claim on copyrights or patentable inventions developed solely by a student as part of her education, whether or not she uses UH facilities to do so, since she arguably pays for the use of facilities with her tuition. But — and there’s always a but — UH may have a right to any patentable inventions developed by a student, even in part, through participation in a sponsored research project or while working for UH. If so, the student would also has a right to share in the exploitation of any such patentable inventions. Students are required to publish Doctoral dissertations or deposit a copy with the institution as part of the requirements of the Graduate Division.

Visiting scholars receiving a paycheck from UH clearly fall under the UH Patent and Copyright Policy as well as the policies of their home institution and lead more complicated lives. The case of visiting scholars who don’t get a UH paycheck is less clear, but the use of our facilities in their efforts may give rise to a claim by UH that the institution has at least a license to copyright works they produce during their tenure here.    

A final complication is “joint copyright.” If other people contribute to your copyright work, they may have a legal claim to it as joint holders of the copyrights, and if those people are working for UH on a work-for-hire basis — as are programmers, videographers, graphic artists, etc. — their legal claim to joint copyright may give rise to a claim by the institution. 

Last updated: August, 2010

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