Intellectual Property

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Intellectual Property (IP) concerns the creation of a knowledge-based product. You cannot "own" ideas in your head, they must in a tangible form, such as:

  • drawings,
  • reports,
  • plans, or
  • specifications.

Then they become intellectual property, and are protected by laws.

Your rights regarding Intellectual Property

If you’re a Canadian citizen, the Canada Patent Act and the Canada Copyright Act cover you. Learn more about this legislation from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

The act contains the relevant legislation and law concerning copyright and patents. If you're an international student and/or not a Canadian citizen, you may not be protected under Canadian copyright law. 

Application of Intellectual Property

There are different applications of IP, depending on your employer.

1. If you’re employed by the University of Waterloo, you’re subject to

  • Policy 73, applies, which states that Intellectual Property created in the course of teaching and research belongs to the creator. (see exceptions below).
  • Policy 73 applies when you’re working on campus as a co-op student and while you’re a student at the university.

2. If you’re employed by an off-campus employer:

  • your employer has its own policies concerning Intellectual Property
  • you may be asked to assign patent rights to your employer for something that you’ve created or helped to create

Exceptions to Policy 73

Policy 73 states that ownership of IP rights for the products of teaching and research activities belong to the creator(s) of these activities, with three important exceptions:

  • The University normally retains ownership of IP rights in works created as assigned tasks in the course of administrative activities.
  • Owners of IP rights in scholarly works created in the course of teaching/research activities grant the University a non-exclusive, free, irrevocable licence to copy and/or use such works in other teaching/research activities, but excluding licensing and distribution to persons or organizations outside the University community.
    • Any such licensing and/or distribution activity would be authorized only by an additional licence from the owner(s).
  • In sponsored or contract research activities, ownership of IP rights may be determined in whole or in part by the regulations of the sponsor or the terms of the contract.
    • Participants in these research activities must be made aware of any such conditions of the contract by the Principal Investigator; the leader of the research project.

Recognizing contributors

Regardless of who owns the Intellectual Property, contributors should receive appropriate recognition.

If you’ve prepared reports or drawings, your name should be included in the documents. However, for some items (such as technical manuals, software, or advertising copy) it may be unreasonable for the creator to be identified.


  • The creator must be identified, even if the ownership is assigned to someone else.
  • If you invent something during a work term and the employer patents it, you’ll be identified as the inventor, but the employer owns the invention and patent (also applies to copyright).


Before you begin work, review your employer’s IP policies, which are usually outlined in the employment contract.

In many engineering firms, employees sign a contract giving all Intellectual Property rights to the employer. Many contracts also include a non-disclosure agreement; you may not discuss any employer-related information that isn’t publicly known, during or after a work term with anyone external to your employer. 

Exception cases

If you develop an invention while working on an employer's invention, disclose this information and have your invention excluded from the employment contract.

If you’re already employed and didn’t mention a potential conflict of interest, speak to a lawyer. The conflict could be interpreted as breach of company confidentiality or as theft of Intellectual Property.


Thanks to Gordon Andrews, Associate Chair, Mechanical Engineering, University of Waterloo for assistance with this section.

Andrews, G.A., Aplevich, J.D., Fraser, R.A., Ratz, H.C., 2002. Introduction to Professional Engineering in Canada . Prentice Hall Pearson Education, Toronto. Ch 17

Ellis, S.A., Weir, J.D., 1997. Critical Concepts of Canadian Business Law . Addison Wesley. Ch. 14