The Truth, from Ruth: students want more IP teaching

Student cat by Drakiusz
An Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) media release, embargoed until this very minute, announces the launch of a report by the UK National Union of Students (NUS) on some research by the NUS and IPAN into student attitudes towards the teaching of IP at university level.  According to the media release:
"Universities need dramatic rethink on how they teach intellectual property, new survey shows

Most students believe that the way they are taught about intellectual property (IP) does not equip them for their future careers. Universities and colleges focus too much on the negative aspects of plagiarism and not enough on the benefits of IP rights, such as patents and registered designs [this Kat is quite surprised, not just because he has always tried to emphasise the positive -- as this blog also seeks to do -- but also because there seems to be so much more useful teaching material about the positive benefits and how the system works].

According to a new landmark survey of student attitudes to intellectual property and its teaching, students recognise that understanding IP is important for their education and future careers but fail to see any link between IP and their eventual commercial success (or failure) [this can easily happen if students are encouraged or habituated to think of IP rights as something that other people own and enforce against them, rather than as something which they themselves produce, often quite effortlessly, as a by-product of their own existence].

The focus on plagiarism has not led to teaching about broader aspects of IP. But students want IP education integrated into their courses, linked to their career options. Only 40 per cent of respondents thought their IP awareness sufficient for their future needs [this is good news.  A shared recognition of a need = proof that a market exists for such teaching].

The online survey of students in Further and Higher Education was carried out by the National Union of Students in partnership with the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) and the Intellectual Property Office. Over 2,000 replies were analysed in producing the report .... It is the first large-scale survey to provide insight into student attitudes to IP and its teaching.

[Veteran Katfriend and National Treasure] Professor Ruth Soetendorp who leads IPAN’s Education Group said:
“This research highlights shortcomings in student IP understanding and its teaching in Further and Higher Education which have negative implications for the UK economy. The UK needs to be world class in the creative arts, innovative in its product and systems designs, and pioneering in manufacturing processes. In a global market these need to be underwritten by a proper understanding of IP embedded in an educated workforce.” “This research confirms what we have long suspected: that students want to see IP teaching integrated in their courses. The UK’s FE and HE course providers must now step-up to meet this need.”
Improving IP education in the UK is a significant and urgent challenge requiring active involvement and cooperation of stakeholders in academia, industry, the professions and government. IPAN looks forward to working with the Intellectual Property Office and education bodies to help ensure that the challenge is met".
The survey is available from the NUS here.

The IPKat is saddened that, after so many years of trying to teach IP to non-lawyers at tertiary educational institutions, there is still an unmet demand. This Kat in particular remembers offering to teach IP to the Engineering students at an institution in which he was a Law Lecturer. He was told: "why not teach them something useful instead?" He wonders whether other countries have had greater success in integrating information and understanding of IP into their non-law teaching and hopes that readers will share their thoughts and experiences.

By the way, you're never too young to start learning about IP: only last month this Kat posted on Project EduKat, here.
The Truth, from Ruth: students want more IP teaching The Truth, from Ruth: students want more IP teaching Reviewed by Jeremy on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. I am not surprised.
    My expdrience is limited to teaching photography and journalism at BA and MA level in UK. In 1993 I came across a colleague teaching copyright as if the 1956 Act were current. Another openly enouraged his students to appropriate published images on the grounds that copyright was an out-moded concept. Just last month I listened open-mouthed to a senior academic confuse property release with copyright.
    My tuppence worth: we need to train the trainers. As the story about the engineers shows, if the teachers that students see every day do not see IP as shaping the professional space in which they operate, a few guest lectures from IP evangelists will amount to a mere drop in their ocean of learning. We're talking about a change of culture in HE - necessary even in a field as charged through with IP as photography - but it has to come from the top.

  2. I have taught on IP matters, mostly copyright and trade mark, at quite a few Universities and the like. My experience is that the key to engaging people's interests is to talk about the role IP plays in the context of the student's business. Explaining the duration of copyright and the remedies available is only so interesting, but if you can show how rights flow in the business relationships that they are familiar with and how it affects where the money goes then you've got their attention. For this reason, it's often better to speak to students who are close to actually launching their careers in the later years of study.

  3. Some of the student's attitudes towards the teaching of IP Law did surprise me. In particular it seems quite sad that students don;t think they way they are being taught equips them for their future careers. However, it is great that there is a recognition of the importance of IP education.

  4. I used to work in a large London patent practice. When recruiting juniors we would be very reluctant to look at people who had studied IP formally in any way as it tended to give them preconceived ideas which hindered aquiring the skills to be a patent attorney. Also, I am not sure that IP should be part of a science degree because can you really be taught enough to make this a useful asset to have in the future? I am very sceptical about scientists learning IP in a formal way, and I think in a world of limited resources this is not the best use of resources.

  5. Pete Mason -
    Media students - video, film, multimedia, online developers, games, design, journalism, photography - are swimming in an IP domain from their first hour at college, whether they or their tutors recognise it or not. At times even before: some institutions require students to assign copyright in all course work to the institution (a practice I banned on courses that I led). If we seek a change in culture, it seems to me we need to start from the beginning, certainly for all media students.


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