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Walking off with dinosaurs: Understanding research IP with Charlesworth Knowledge


One of the hardest aspects of research ethics training (to both teach and understand) is the concept of intellectual property (IP), defined as ‘intangible property that results from creativity’. In other words, IP encompasses everything from your research ideas themselves through to the resulting output: publications, research articles, conference abstracts, posters, white papers, and patents, to name just a few examples. Talks and presentations can also be components of IP: if you present a new idea in one of your talks, for example, then it’s out there and on show for all the world to see (and potentially steal).


Keeping this in mind, there are two key areas covered by our Charlesworth Knowledge IP training for researchers: how to properly protect your own ideas, and how to carry out your projects ethically so that you don’t infringe on anybody else’s IP. When dealing with the first of these, the key thing to have is a plan: you don’t want to immediately go out and present one of your great new research ideas at a conference, for example, without doing some background work, e.g. collecting some data and performing some experiments, with a clear plan in place to write up the work. Or better, as we would recommend, don’t talk about your research ideas and data until you know that you have a paper already accepted for publication. This takes planning and scheduling: we can help you to plan which of your research ideas are ready for public dissemination, and which are not.


Above all, planning to publish your work (and actually doing so) is critical to protecting your research IP and making sure that you get the credit you deserve for your ideas, data collection, and work. As the old saying goes, a piece of research that has not been published might as well have not been done at all. Sitting on data and ideas for years on end is also a bad strategy as you develop your career; you will only get credit for work that has not just been completed, but also published, preferably in a peer-reviewed listed journal with an impact factor. Our wide range of training courses can help in this area too.


The key thing to keep in mind in order to ensure you don’t infringe on someone else’s IP, therefore ensuring your research is always ethical, is to correctly cite the work of others. Cite, cite, cite; you really can’t do it enough. If in doubt, cite. This is a key aspect of research ethics training and something that our plagiarism checking and consultancy services can help with. It’s very easily done when English is not your first language: you read something in another paper and think ‘that sounds good’ and then re-use it in your own work, but forget to reference it adequately, or at all. Plagiarism in research can occur in a range of ways, including hearing a good idea in a conference talk, for example, and then implementing it in your own research. Conference abstracts can also be cited in research articles, don’t forget.


In my own field, palaeontology, much of the raw data (leading to IP) that we base our research on tends to be much more tangible: the fossils themselves. Access to a fossil, a dinosaur for example, can make or break a research project, and one person’s ideas and interpretations might differ from someone else’s. What happens if you lose access to a fossil, or someone takes it away? To ensure compliance with research ethics guidelines and to minimise the chances of any conflicts, document everything. Keep a daily lab book, don’t delete emails, document drafts, or dataset, and take lots of photographs (if it’s relevant to your field, of course). You won’t be able to convincingly prove that you thought of an idea first if you don’t have documentation: this is increasingly an issue to bear in mind in this digital online age.


It’s never been more important to ensure you get full credit for your intellectual property, as well as making sure you don’t unwittingly take credit for anybody else’s. Get in touch today to find out more about Charlesworth’s IP-related training and language services.



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