Intellectual Property Management

Intellectual Property Management

Through the science, legal and business expertise of the TCL team at the Polsky Center, and their partnerships with University Research Administration and the University’s legal counsel, the Polsky Center provides support to protect your inventions and discoveries.


Patents, copyrights, trademarks, domain names and trade secrets are all legal methods of protecting different forms of intellectual property. The rights granted to the owners are specific and enforceable. In some cases, obtaining intellectual property protection is necessary to incentivize a partner to commercially develop the technology. The commercialization process involves contractually licensing these legal rights, in whole or in part, exclusively or non-exclusively, and with various conditions attached, to commercialization partners, in return for various lump sum and royalty payments.

As soon as you think you may have a discovery or invention, at whatever stage, contact the TCL team or submit an invention disclosure form invention disclosure form. Disclose early, ahead of any upcoming publications and presentations, and often! A team member will work with you to determine next steps.

Types of Intellectual Property


Patents protect new, non-obvious, and useful inventions. In exchange for disclosing the invention to the public (through the publication of the patent), the government grants the patent owner the right to exclude others from the manufacture, use, or sale of the invention for twenty years. A typical U.S. patent can cost $25,000 or more, and take three to four years to obtain. Obtaining rights in foreign countries can cost significantly more. More information can be found at the United States Patent OfficeThe Council on Governmental Relations (COGR is an association of research universities, founded in 1948), and, especially for searching patents, at the Library’s patent page. Once a U.S. patent application is filed, it usually takes 2-4 years to obtain an issued patent.


Copyrights protect the specific expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. In the University context, copyright might be used to protect educational materials, artistic works, or computer software. Copyright gives the holder the exclusive right to, among other things, reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and perform the work publicly (for those works that can be performed). See the United States Copyright Office for general information and the University of Chicago Copyright Policy for Faculty and Other Academic Appointees for more information about the University’s treatment of copyright ownership.

If you have questions about managing the copyrights for a project with many potential authors, especially if non-University contractors are used, contact us, or the Office of Legal Counsel. We recommend setting expectations early in the process. If you have questions about using the material of others, please see the Library’s Copyright Information Center.


Software can be licensed under two common categories of copyright law, which grant the license specific rights, are proprietary software and free and open source software. Free and open source software grants the licensee the rights and bundle of modifiable software code with the software. Proprietary software does not grant the right to the source code, only the software.


Trademarks are words or symbols used by their owners to identify goods or services distinctively. For example, “University of Chicago” is a University-owned trademark registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The owner of a trademark has the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with specified goods and services. In a University context, trademarks may be used to protect the name of educational materials or software already well recognized in a non-profit context, when a for-profit start-up is being formed.

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