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College of Engineering and Computing

Intellectual Property

As part of a Capstone project, students may contribute to the development of intellectual property (IP). These developments — whether circuits, system schematics, circuit board layouts, computer code or patentable inventions — can generate income from use payments or patent royalties.

The University of South Carolina has procedures in place to protect faculty, staff and students in the pursuit and creation of valuable ideas and solutions. Here's how the university's Intellectual Property Policy protects inventors as well as project sponsors who have invested time and resources in the project. 

Student Protections

USC owns any inventions created by faculty, staff or students using substantial university resources or using funds that are administered through the university. Should the invention be licensed and the university derive revenue, after costs from that license, the inventors — whether faculty, staff, or students — benefit by receiving a portion of that revenue. Because of these policies and benefits, students should expect to assign USC the rights to inventions resulting from project work so that inventions can be protected and monetized. Assigning ownership rights to inventions and intellectual property that are developed as part of a Capstone Design project does not affect student ownership of other ideas and inventions that may have been discovered or created prior to, or outside the scope of the Capstone project, without USC resources.

Industry Sponsor Protections

If a Capstone project is sponsored by a private company, that company will have invested time and resources into the project and will want to ensure that they can benefit from the project, which generally means that the company must have access to and control over any project-related developments. Otherwise, any advancements made could become unavailable to the sponsor, or even be provided to its competition. In order to protect sponsor interests, all students who create an invention related to a sponsored project will assign ownership of such invention to USC, and USC will then provide a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to the sponsor. Or, if the sponsor desires, they can negotiate a fee-bearing exclusive license which might produce income to all individuals involved in the project. Such licenses consolidate the invention with the company, thereby permitting the company to make a return on its investment in exchange for the risk that the company assumed in sponsoring the Capstone project. As always, any revenue that USC receives after costs, will be shared with the inventors as per USC's Intellectual Property Policy.

Capstone project participants must also agree to protect all proprietary or confidential information provided by the project sponsor. This is information that is not available from other public sources, and it will be marked as proprietary or confidential when it is received. Participating individuals may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement attesting that confidential information will not be disclosed.

Conflict Disclosure

Students should consider whether assigning IP rights or signing a confidentiality agreement for a Capstone project would conflict with any other activity in which they are engaged. For example, if students or faculty are involved in a similar project as part of teaching or research activities, they might want to consider whether the Capstone project would create a real or perceived conflict with the other activity. Questions or concerns about a potential conflict should be discussed with the coordinating professor.