The universities are autonomous, fully legal persons under public law.
In the area of the exploitation of intellectual property (UG 2002 §106) this means that the University as an employer has a right to claim inventions and pass on or sell the rights to such inventions or patents to third parties. Inventors must immediately bring inventions to the attention of the University in the form of an invention disclosure. For its part, the University is obligated to inform the inventor in writing within 3 months if it decided to claim ownership of the invention. If the University does not claim the invention or if it does not make any statements within the 3 months, all rights remain with the inventor(s).
Once academics "made their invention available" to at least one member of the public who is not under any duty of confidentiality (such as a non-disclosure agreement), there is no longer the possibility of patent protection for that invention as the invention is considered "published". Once published, the invention is not "novel". The term "made their invention available" is to be understood in the broadest sense of the word by means of a written or oral description, by use or in any other way.
For example the following publications could potentially prevent a patent from being issued, or seriously harm the chances of obtaining valuable, broad patent claims:
- Poster presentation
- Dissertation and theses
- Oral presentations to audience (except internal presentations when no university outsiders are present)
- Discussions with scientists from another university or company, however informal
- Article appearing in written journals or online
Once the patent application is filed academics can "make their invention available".