Intellectual Property Discussion

Keeping accurate and dated notes of your ideas is a critical aspect of good scientific practice. These sorts of instances come up time and again, and irrespective of their frequency, it will only serve to give clarity to your ideas for them to be accurately recorded.

It is important for all scientists to understand how best to protect intellectual property, and keeping good notes is certainly an important aspect of this. It is also important to be aware that one's intellectual property is defined as property by law and there are means for protecting new ideas. Certainly in the pure sciences, publishing the information is the surest way to obtain credit for them, and so memo writing (leading to paper writing) is a good habit to develop: scientists must write!

So, what to do? At a bare minimum, it would be necessary for you to be included as an author on the paper: those were your ideas to start with, and your advisor does know that. Make a strong case to the department head that your concerns ought to be heard: collate your notes, and make them presentable. Inclusion as an author is not a trivial matter, and while you might not be up-to-speed with paper writing, it is important to at least be included.

Report the issue to the Misconduct Policy Officer (MPO): on most campuses there is an official who deals with matters of intellectual property. The matter is not so straightforward, in fact, and no doubt the approach will change from case to case. Foreign nationals, for example, may feel less inclined to dispute the issue, particularly if their right to work depends on their institution supporting them. (In this case, there is probably another avenue to explore, which might naturally be a foreign national liaison at the university who could be approached for advice).

Finally, there is a strong argument for the student to take notes after every meeting. Notes are not, of course, irrefutable evidence but it might carry a little more weight with the department head if the student could produce a quote of the off-hand way the professor dismisses him, especially since that quote seems to acknowledge that the idea originated with the student.

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