Let's say a student researcher at a university is given notebooks to lab take notes about the research during their time as a researcher. This student does so well that they are hired by a research company for a career. The student tries to take the notebooks full of notes with them but the university says they can't because the stuff is property of the university.

Is this true? Is this considered intellectual property theft? I know that most companies won't let their employees take things with them to a new job, but this person was originally a student, on a part time job at the university while doing grad studies. Who would win if this were taken to court?

NOTE: This is not a situation of mine, I just wanted to see if there was a difference between a student and an actual hired employee in this situation. Intellectual property theft came up in one of my classes and I just want to make sure I know the whole concept before I make any broad generalizations in class discussions

1 Answer 1


I believe this is more of a legal question than a philosophy one.

For all I know, usually a contract is signed at the beginning of the employment in which the employee agrees to not divulgate any information he receives while on duty. Thus, if he took those notes during duty, he may not use those outside of his job, even after employment.

Now, on the intellectual property level, I believe there are elements worth to mention.

Does the knowledge the student has learnt during his job belongs to him, or to the university? As said before, one could argue that legally, the university wins- when a group of researchers do research under the tutelage of a teacher, the teacher holds the rights to everything they find, usually. But then, you may wonder, what is "working experience" ? All those things you learned while working and that you use now to make yourself more efficient at whatever you are doing, wouldn't they then be someone else's intellectual property ? That makes no sense. If we could not use what we learn, then there would bee no evolution whatsoever. The exception of this would then be that the only things you may know in life are the things that you discover by yourself.

Can you really thrive by only learning from yourself ? But what is learning from yourself ? Some argue that the knowledge is within, waiting to be uncovered. Others say it is from the environment. But if it is from the environment, isn't the knowledge not coming from you ? This could go on for a long time !

Now, to decide if evolution is good thing or a bad thing would be a whole other discussion. What I'd like to focus on is what you asked, the intellectual property theft concept.

This link will uncover that the modern use of this concept that can be resumed like this :

"I found this. And since I found it, I should be the one beneficiating from it."

Now, where is the frontier between "working experience" and "found while working" ? That's another question.

Hope I helped.

  • You helped out a lot on this. Sorry about putting this in the Philosophy forum. I thought it also had something to do with ethics so I just threw it on here. Thanks again though! Nov 27, 2011 at 3:47

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