Confidentiality and intellectual property issues may arise during the course of your candidature.

These issues can arise if your research involves external parties, such as participants in your study, companies, publishers, or funding agencies.

The Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Toolkit provides a range of tools to help you manage these issues.
IP Toolkit [PDF, 114.9 KB]
Updated 12 Mar 2019

1. Managing confidentiality and intellectual property

If you believe your project may raise confidentiality and/or intellectual property issues you should first discuss these issues with your supervisors. If a supervisor is aware of any existing confidentiality and/or intellectual property restrictions or agreements associated with your research that exist prior to you starting your candidature, your supervisor needs to advise you about these restrictions and/or agreements and their implications prior to you commencing your work on the project. Similarly, if you bring existing confidentiality and/or intellectual property restrictions or agreements to be used in your research or studies, you need to discuss and provide evidence of these to your supervisors prior to commencing candidature.

If your project involves any formal agreements or contracts, your supervisor can contact the UWA Risk and Legal Office using the email [email protected].

Copies of all documents should be submitted to the Graduate Research School to be filed within your student record. Details of confidentiality and/or intellectual property issues should also be noted in the Research Proposal and/or Annual Report

If you are unsure if your project raises confidentiality and/or intellectual property issues you may find Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Toolkit useful. You can also contact a Graduate Education Officer in the Graduate Research School who may be able to advise you. 

2. Confidentiality and confidentiality agreements

If your project involves sensitive and/or private data, you may need to consider how to design, carry out your research and write about your research in a way that maintains the confidentiality of participants and/or the confidentiality of the data. Many projects involving confidential information will require ethics approval, will need an appropriate data management plan, and access to the final version of the thesis may need to be restricted.

Obligations that may affect the thesis may also be formalised in a collaboration agreement. Supervisors can seek advice from the UWA Risk and Legal Office about these agreements.

For further information about ethics approvals please see information provided by Human Research Ethics. For further information about data management plans see the Data Management Toolkit.

If you receive assistance or information from external parties such as publishers, funding agencies, and/or companies, they may request or impose restrictions on the publication of your data, your results, your thesis, or other information produced from your project. All obligations which affect your thesis and its publication should be written down as part of the correspondence between you and those parties and/or formalised in a confidentiality agreement.

2.1 Managing Confidentiality Restrictions
If a party requests a confidentiality restriction on your thesis, each request for restriction should be carefully considered. Some parties are unused to dealing with universities and may ask for unreasonable restrictions. Sometimes practical steps can be taken to minimise any inconvenience caused by these confidentiality restrictions. For example you could consider:

  • Presenting the confidential material in a way that does not require any restrictions to be imposed. This could involve the use of pseudonyms, redaction of identifying information or de-identification of the data.
  • Separating the confidential information off into an appendix. The thesis may then be examined in confidence with the appendix attached. This confidential appendix could then be removed from the published version of the thesis.
  • Sending the party each thesis chapter as it is finished. The party could then give consent for publication of the project on a chapter by chapter basis. This may speed up the process as approval of a whole thesis often takes a long period of time.
  • Discussing the confidentiality restrictions proposed by a publisher with the research support staff in the library to determine if the restrictions are reasonable.

2.2 Confidentiality Agreements
Your supervisors can liaise with the UWA Risk and Legal Office regarding any formal confidentiality agreement. The Risk and Legal Office may be able to provide confidentiality agreement template.

2.3 Restricted Access to Thesis
If your thesis contains confidential material, or if you are in an employment or other contract relationship with a party that restricts use or publication of your thesis, you may request to restrict access to the thesis using the Application for Restricted Access to Thesis form

Further information about application for restricted access to the thesis is available in the UWA Rules for Higher Degrees by Research: Intellectual property and confidentiality.

3. Intellectual property

In the absence of any agreement, intellectual property is dealt with according to the UWA Intellectual Property Policy. The common forms of intellectual property which may affect you are patents and copyright.

If you are unsure if your project requires any formal Intellectual Property agreement you may find the Intellectual Property Questionnaire useful.

IP Questionnaire [PDF, 140.4 KB]
Updated 12 Mar 2019

IP Questionnaire [RTF, 363.6 KB]
Updated 12 Mar 2019

3.1. Copyright
Copyright represents a bundle of rights which can be summarised as the right to reproduce other people's work. In research projects and theses, this normally refers to written works, artistic works (like illustrations, charts and diagrams) and software. Copyright also applies to other things like sound recordings, broadcasts, film and video works.

You may not copy any significant or important portion of work belonging to somebody else without permission. You cannot assume that because the material is on the internet that it is in the public domain. The library provides general copyright advice and advice regarding Copyright and Higher Degree Theses: Copying while researching your thesis

Unless you have assigned copyright of your thesis to another party, normally you own copyright of your thesis. If you do not own copyright, you become unable to copy or publish your thesis.

3.2 Patents
Patents are given for inventions such as devices, industrial processes, specific DNA sequences and software. Patents are a very powerful way of protecting intellectual property and are therefore both highly sought after and vigorously enforced. Before applying for a patent arising, it is important to know whether another party has made any prior claim on invention. Often this involves working with a patent lawyer.

If you believe you have a patentable process or device, you should seek advice from your supervisor and the Research Enterprise Office and your supervisor can contact the Risk and Legal Office.

3.3. Other forms of intellectual property
Other forms of intellectual property include plant breeder's rights, circuit layout rights, trademarks, and registered designs. These forms of intellectual property do not arise very often within candidature but seek advice from your supervisor and the Graduate Research School if you believe your project involve any form of intellectual property.

3.4 Intellectual property rights of students

Unless you assign intellectual property to another party, you own the intellectual property you create during your candidature in accordance with the UWA Intellectual Property Policy. Details of your intellectual property rights can be found in this policy.

To reassign your intellectual property, you can complete a Reassignment of Intellectual Property- Student Deed Poll. UWA recommends that you obtain independent legal advice from a legal practitioner of choice before signing the Deed, to assist your understanding of the legal consequences of signing the Deed and to clarify any queries or concerns you may have about signing the Deed.

4. Legal support

The UWA Risk and Legal Office consider students a separate entity from the University, and are only able to act for and take instructions from the University, through UWA supervisors and/or the Graduate Research School. As such, the Risk and Legal Office will not advise you directly.

For supervisors: Supervisors should direct any questions to the UWA Risk and Legal Office. Copies of all documents and agreements should be submitted to the Graduate Research School to be filed within the student record.

For students: The UWA Risk and Legal Office will not liaise with you directly. Discuss any legal issues arising from your candidature with your supervisors, who can then contact the Risk and Legal Office or the Graduate Research School. The Risk and Legal Office suggest students obtain independent legal advice from a legal practitioner of choice before signing any legal documents, to assist understanding of the legal consequences of signing these documents.