FAQ for Students

Who owns my invention?

Inventions made outside of fulfilling your Institute responsibilities:
Student inventors own any inventions that are made without the use of Caltech facilities or equipment (e.g. laboratories and computers), and if the inventions do not pertain to their Institute research responsibilities. Typically, inventions developed by students as part of their coursework are not owned by Caltech. Inventions relating to Caltech research (e.g. working in a lab for a research group) may belong to Caltech. If you are uncertain about the classification of your invention, please contact OTTCP.

Inventions made while fulfilling your Institute responsibilities:
Caltech owns inventions made by students while working in a Caltech research laboratory or in the performance of their responsibilities to Caltech. Graduate students performing research at Caltech are considered student employees, and Caltech retains ownership of any inventions made during the performance of their research obligations. Caltech's Research Policy Handbook explains in greater detail how invention ownership is determined.

Patent rights can be transferred from one entity to another through assignment. An assignment is a legal contract memorializing this transfer of patent rights. Under rare circumstances, student-owned invention rights can be assigned to Caltech should the student prefer that Caltech manage patent prosecution and the intellectual property. These instances are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Who patents my invention?

When the invention is owned by Caltech, Caltech hires outside intellectual property professionals to draft, file, and prosecute patents for its inventions. OTTCP helps to manage prosecution by providing input and direction to the outside counsel. The costs of patent prosecution are initially borne by Caltech, but may also be paid or reimbursed by a company or organization that licenses the right to use the invention. When the invention is owned by the student, it is the student's responsibility to obtain protection. Under rare circumstances, Caltech can manage patenting of a student owned invention, but in order to do so, Caltech requires that the student assign his/her rights to Caltech.

I had a great idea at home. Do I have to disclose it?

Caltech owns inventions conceived or reduced to practice in whole or in part by members of the faculty or staff in the performance of their Institute responsibilities regardless of where this work is performed. Student employees, like graduate students, are considered staff members. Therefore, if your idea relates to your Institute research obligations, and you believe it merits patenting, you must disclose it to OTTCP. If you have any uncertainties, please call OTTCP for advice.

I'd like to learn more about starting a company. Where can I go?

OTTCP offers a variety of resources for students interested in commercializing their inventions. Contact us to discuss these options.