Frequently Asked Questions

Information is listed in these categories:

Inventing and Disclosing

What is an invention?

An invention is a useful method, device, process, material, or an improvement to an existing invention. There is a distinction between an invention and what is patentable, as not all inventions are patentable. Patentable inventions must be novel, non-obvious, and useful for a practical purpose.

How do I know if I have invented something?

If you can answer "yes" to any of the following questions, please complete an Intellectual Property Questionnaire (IPQ) and send it to the Technology Analyst in the Office for Technology Development (OTD).

  • Have I built or modified an instrument or device to fulfill a need I recognized?
  • Have I discovered or developed a new technique for research or patient care that is not described in the clinical or scientific literature?
  • Have I discovered or created a new chemical compound, drug, formulation, antibody, gene or protein sequence, or genetically engineered organism?
  • Have I made an early stage scientific discovery that I think may be significant?
  • Have I made an improvement to a product while testing it for a company?
  • Have I made an improvement to a technology originally obtained from another third party via a material transfer agreement?
  • Have I created a process or a method of using an existing product in a different way than what is already known?
  • Have I developed software that outside parties may be interested in acquiring?
  • Unsure? Contact us!
Must I inform the UT Southwestern Office for Technology Development of my invention?

As a condition of employment, UT System Employment Policy requires that all UT Southwestern employees (including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, clinicians, and faculty members) disclose inventions and discoveries if they were created under at least one of following conditions:

  • Using UT Southwestern facilities
  • On UT Southwestern time
  • Relating to employment duties at UT Southwestern

Please see the FAQs below on revenue sharing.

Does UT Southwestern own every invention I create?

The Board of Regents of the University of Texas System (Board), through UT Southwestern, owns all inventions created by employees where one of the following is true:

  • The invention is related to UT Southwestern employment duties
  • The invention was made using UT Southwestern facilities
  • The invention was created on UT Southwestern time

Note that employment duties extend to include the areas of biomedical research, biomedical education, and patient care, but if you believe you have invented something unrelated to your UT Southwestern employment responsibilities, we recommend disclosure of any such invention to the Office for Technology Development for review and clearance. If the OTD determines that the Board does not own the invention, the Office will provide documentation confirming this conclusion.

The Board owns inventions created under federal grants issued to UT Southwestern. Additionally, the U.S. government also has certain rights to inventions created under federal grants.

The Board owns inventions created under non-federal grants issued to UT Southwestern unless the granting organization specifically retains ownership of inventions via the grant agreement.

Ownership of inventions created under a Sponsored Research Agreement, Lab Study Agreement, Clinical Study Agreement, or Material Transfer Agreement is dictated by the language in the Agreement. Therefore, when an invention is disclosed, it is critical to inform the Office for Technology Development if one of these agreements has previously been submitted.

How are “employment duties” defined?

For the purpose of determining ownership of intellectual property, any invention made within the areas of patient care, biomedical education, or biomedical research are owned by the Board.

What happens if I invented with NIH (or another agency's) funds?

The Board has an option to exercise its right to elect title to inventions created under federal grants issued to UT Southwestern. UT Southwestern must inform the NIH of your invention within two months of the invention's disclosure. Within two years of the invention's disclosure, UT Southwestern must inform the NIH if it will elect to retain title to the invention. The Office for Technology Development is responsible for fulfilling this obligation.

What if my co-inventors are employed by different entities?

UT Southwestern will work with the entities that employ the co-inventors to formulate a Joint Ownership and Licensing Cooperation Agreement whereby the entities agree to share or delegate costs, revenues, and commercialization opportunities for that invention.

How can I demonstrate my inventive contribution?
To demonstrate your inventive contribution, follow these guidelines:
  1. Keep detailed and accurate laboratory notebooks to document the dates of the conception and development of the patentable idea, including descriptions, drawings, photographs, and any other documentation that may be applicable.
  2. Sign and date each entry and have at least one witness sign and date the entries. The witness should not have a participating role in the project and/or invention.
How do I notify the Office for Technology Development of an invention I have created?

Sending a completed Intellectual Property Questionnaire (IPQ) to the Office for Technology Development is the first step in disclosing the invention. The Technology Analyst will then analyze the invention and identify and review any information related to the invention.

You will likely be asked at some point during the disclosure process to provide feedback on any identified documents and information or answer questions about your invention.

Your cooperation during this first evaluation process is critical to ensure that the OTD understands your invention completely. If the OTD understands the invention, then the Office is able to obtain patent protection and commercialize the invention.

How are inventions evaluated?

Some of the questions that the Office for Technology Development commonly asks about new inventions follow:

  • What unmet patient need does the invention address?
  • Does the Board own the invention?
  • Are our rights in this invention governed or restricted by provisions of a Material Transfer Agreement or funding agreement (Sponsored Research Agreement, Clinical Study Agreement, etc.)?
  • Does the invention meet the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's criteria for a patentable invention?
  • Is UT Southwestern willing and able to enforce its patent rights that cover the invention?
  • Is the invention protectable by means other than patenting?
  • Can we identify one or more commercial opportunities?
  • Is the invention ready for commercialization, or will it require additional development?
  • How big is the potential patient population?
  • What competitive advantages would the new product(s) have in the marketplace?
  • Are there significant limitations to the technology?
  • What third party rights may have to be obtained to commercialize or practice the invention (freedom to operate)?

Depending upon the answers to these questions, the OTD may elect to patent or otherwise protect and/or market the invention. Inventors will be notified of the OTD's intentions as soon as possible, usually within 30 days of receiving the completed Intellectual Property Questionnaire (IPQ). Please let the Office know if a publication or presentation is imminent so that patent applications can be filed quickly.

How does UT Southwestern protect inventions?

The common methods to protect intellectual property are by filing patent or copyright applications or by limiting access. Trade secret protection is inconsistent with UT Southwestern's mission of education and therefore never used by UT Southwestern. Patents are available on a country-by-country basis and grant the owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling a particular invention in a given country. Copyrights are appropriate for protecting software, video, or other works of authorship or creation.

Controlling access to novel inventions, including biomaterials (cell lines, antibodies, reagents, or genetically engineered animals), preserves the ability to license and disseminate such materials.

How does notifying the Office for Technology Development of my invention affect my ability to publish?

The Office for Technology Development does not interfere with inventors' publishing plans and endeavors to secure property protections before a scheduled publication or presentation. The Office should be informed of your invention before you submit your manuscript that describes the invention. 

As an inventor, may I acquire rights to the invention I created?

Under some circumstances, the Board, through UT Southwestern, is willing to license an invention back to its inventor (or release its rights in an invention), depending on the terms of any pre-existing contract. Under any such arrangement, the inventor and UT Southwestern will negotiate the terms of such license.

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Are all inventions patentable?

Patentable inventions are defined in the Patent Act, United States Code Title 35. To be patentable, an invention must be useful, novel, and non-obvious. This means an invention must not have been previously described in a publication; it must have some real-world use; it cannot be something found in nature or be a naturally occurring process; and in the judgement of a person of ordinary skill in the art, the invention must not be obvious when looked at in comparison to prior literature in that field.

The conditions for patentability constitute a very large body of law, and UT Southwestern retains professional and experienced patent attorneys to apply for patents on our inventions. The Office advances all legal fees and costs – the UT Southwestern inventor does not have to provide any such funding.

Note that inventions comprised of known elements, whose combination is non-obvious, may be patentable, as are new uses for known compositions or devices.

How does UT Southwestern decide to patent inventions?

Filing a patent application is an expensive process. Thus, before UT Southwestern files any patent application on behalf of the Board, it considers the following with respect to the invention:

  • Needs of a patient population
  • Commercial utility
  • Obligations to the sponsors of the research
  • Competitive superiority
  • Necessity for extensive development work
  • Licensee interest
How is inventorship determined?

Inventorship is determined in accordance with U.S. patent law. Inventorship is limited to those individuals who have made an intellectual contribution to the conception of the invention which is embodied by one or more claims described in the patent application. The Office for Technology Development does not determine who should be named as an inventor. This is the responsibility of outside counsel assigned to the file. Inventorship may be amended during the course of patent prosecution. No individual at UT Southwestern can decide inventorship, although it is important to identify any individuals connected with the project.

Sometimes, patent prosecution may require dividing the claims into separate applications, which may require amendment of the inventors on each case. In rare circumstances, an inventor may be named in the case in error or an inventor may have been omitted. Provided there was no intent to deceive the USPTO, these errors can be fixed. In fact, it is important to fix any such errors. If inventors are intentionally named incorrectly, any resulting patent may be invalidated.

Can software be patented?

Yes, software can be patented, but in many cases, copyrighting the software provides adequate protection much more efficiently. Under Board policy, software created by faculty, staff, and students for educational or training purposes is not owned by the Board of Regents.

Where the creator or author may own the copyright, educational uses are still reserved to UT Southwestern. For this reason, the OTD encourages the disclosure of the software to the Office by submitting an Intellectual Property Questionnaire (IPQ). Any media intended to be protected should carry a notation on the title or cover page (e.g. "Copyright, UT Southwestern Medical Center, [year]").

How can I preserve UT Southwestern's ability to claim patent rights?

To preserve U.S. patent rights, a patent application must be filed within one year of an enabling public disclosure of the invention. To preserve foreign patent rights, a patent application must be filed before enabling public disclosure of the invention. To preserve foreign patent rights, a patent application must be filed before any enabling public disclosure of the invention. An inventor should complete an Intellectual Property Questionnaire (IPQ) describing an invention to facilitate the filing of a patent application before disclosing it to the public.

An enabling public disclosure may occur when a poster, abstract, or manuscript appears in public. Posting anything on the internet and speaking to an audience that may include individuals not employed by UT Southwestern can also be an enabling public disclosure.

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Must inventions be patented to be commercialized?

No, inventions may be commercialized without patent protection. Common examples of such inventions include biomaterials such as cell lines, antibodies, animal strains, and software.

How does UT Southwestern commercialize technology?

UT Southwestern may commercialize patented, patent-pending, and unpatented technology. Representatives of the Office for Technology Development work together to identify parties most likely interested in the invention. Often, inventors are best able to identify potentially interested parties.

Commercial parties potentially interested in the invention are contacted and provided a non-confidential description of the invention. If these parties request additional, confidential information, a Confidential Disclosure and Limited Use Agreement (CDA) can be provided to the company to enable the transfer of such information.

Representatives from the Office for Technology Development are the only representatives authorized by law to negotiate license and option agreements on behalf of the University. The OTD is responsible for enforcing and administering all licenses and options, and distributing monies, paid by third parties, to inventors.

How will I be compensated when my invention is commercialized?

If an invention is commercialized, any cash license revenues are first used to reimburse UT Southwestern’s expenses, including patent costs. The amount remaining is subject to the following sharing formula: 50% to the inventors as personal income, 25% to the labs of the inventors, and 25% to the Office of the President of UT Southwestern.

If an inventor leaves UT Southwestern, their continuing share of lab disbursements is distributed to the President, but their personal income disbursements are unaffected. 

What should I do if a company wants me to share unpublished information related to my invention?

If you are willing to share unpublished information with a company, contact a Licensing Associate in the Office for Technology Development, who will work with a representative of the company to draft a Confidential Disclosure and Limited Use Agreement (CDA). Once the agreement is executed you will be free to share the information with the company. However, you are under no obligation to share all available information with the company. The investigator must be able to judge what information may be shared and what information might be best not to share at this stage. If a license is entered into, then you will be expected to share all information with the company that is needed to practice the invention.

How can I send research reagents to my colleague at another university?

Research reagents sent outside UT Southwestern should only be shared after completion of an appropriate Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). The Office for Technology Development’s Cooperative Research group is responsible for negotiating such agreements. In some cases, it may be appropriate to seek reimbursement of the cost associated with production and delivery of such materials.

Material Transfer Agreements only provide for non-commercial research use of materials, so when companies request access to materials, a license agreement is the more appropriate instrument to enable the transfer of materials to commercial entities.

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If my invention is licensed to a start-up company formed through the Office for Technology Development at UT Southwestern, how can I expect to be compensated?

After paying legal expenses, 50% of license revenues that the OTD receives are distributed to the co-inventors and 25% are distributed to the co-inventors' laboratory sub ledger. If the OTD receives shares of stock as part of the license, the shares are held by the University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) until such time that they can be sold on a public exchange. UT Southwestern then sells the shares, and the resulting proceeds are distributed under the same 50/25/25 percent formula.

It may be the case that the co-inventors directly negotiate with the investors and management of the start-up company to receive shares of stock. This is a separate negotiation and transaction from the license. Any shares obtained this way are:

  • The sole property of the co-inventors.
  • Held by the co-inventors themselves.
  • Able to be sold whenever the company allows their sale.
  • Not subject to any monetary split with UT Southwestern.

The existence of any equity shares obtained in such a transfer from the start-up company does not alter the sharing formula of proceeds that UT Southwestern may realize from the sale of UT Southwestern's shares in the manner described above.

Note that UT Southwestern may enter into agreements with start-up companies to receive shares of stock that are not connected to an individual license or not connected to sales of a product covered by a given license. In such circumstances, proceeds from share sales are not distributed, since they are not license revenues.

If my invention is licensed to a UT Southwestern start-up company, can I perform sponsored research for the company?

Yes, you may perform sponsored research under a UT Southwestern approved sponsored research agreement. A conflict of interest management plan must also be established to be certain that the research follows University and System guidelines.

If my invention is licensed to a UT Southwestern start-up company, what role will I play in the company?

The Office for Technology Development recognizes that your involvement may be integral to the success of the start-up. However, such activities may not interfere with your basic research and primary employment obligation to UT Southwestern. You may enter into a consulting agreement with the company or participate on their Scientific Advisory Board, provided this is approved by UT Southwestern. Compensation for such activity is agreed upon between you and the company – the OTD does not determine or negotiate it.

However, in instances where a company is founded (in whole or in part) based on your intellectual property, UT Southwestern policy does not allow you to hold a Board of Directors position or act as an officer in the company.

How are conflicts of interest managed by UT Southwestern?

Conflicts of interest are managed by the Conflict of Interest Office and the Conflict of Interest Committee. In some cases, a conflict of interest management plan must be finalized concurrently with completion of a license agreement. More information may be obtained at the Conflict of Interest Office website.

If my invention is licensed to a UT Southwestern start-up company, will I have to leave my position at UT Southwestern?

No, you only need to leave your employment at UT Southwestern if you decide to become an employee of the start-up company. UT Southwestern policy does not permit you to be an employee or director of the start-up. However, you are allowed to serve as a member of a scientific or medical advisory board, or as a compensated consultant to the start-up. With department chair approval, faculty may spend up to a total of 20% of their time on all of their outside activities, consistent with UT Southwestern policies. The Office for Technology Development maintains a neutral position in instances where a faculty member might choose to change careers by joining a start-up company. Thus, this decision is yours and not determined by the Office for Technology Development.

The answer to my question isn't listed here. How can I find out more?

For more information, call the Office for Technology Development at 214-648-1694 or email us.

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