Intellectual Property (IP)
Your Research & Thesis
Research with Communities

Policies You Can Turn To:

R-10.01 External Research Funding AgreementsR-30.03 Intellectual Property PolicyGraduate General Regulations
Walk This Path With Us report

Other resources:

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous PeoplesCreating Community-Centered Consent

Research is a foundational aspect of your graduate student experience. Your contributions to various communities, standards of practice, and academic or scientific knowledge through your experience as a graduate student will become a part of intellectual property (IP) to some degree. This may occur through the entry of your thesis into the institution’s library or through agreements with bodies external to the university. You have the right to be fully informed about how the rights to your research are held.

The University IP policy (R30.03) acknowledges that intellectual property created exclusively by a student while completing the requirements for an academic degree or certificate is owned by the student.

The Collective Agreement between the institution and the TSSU also recognises the intellectual property held by members regarding the creation of course materials.

Do I have to sign documents related to IP rights or non-disclosure agreements?

If you are studying in a discipline where the potential is high for the work you do to be commercialised or fall under intellectual property, know that you are not required to sign IP agreements in order to prior to beginning your research or your academic program, defending your thesis, or graduating. 

At no point should you feel coerced or required to sign away your rights to intellectual property. These are legal documents and you have the right to receive a full explanation of the contents of these documents, what they mean in relation to your thesis, and receive legal advice or another professional opinion prior to signing. 

Can I or my supervisor request a closed defense to protect IP?

GGR 1.10.1 requires all defenses be open to the public in support of accessible and engaged research. In some cases, such as for the protection of personal or community safety, it can be requested that defenses be closed. This does not include the protection of proprietary information. 

For these reasons, you can request a thesis be embargoed or partially embargoed (not made accessible) within the library for 12 months to protect intellectual property and proprietary information. 

Student Agency in the Process and Presentation of Research and Thesis

No formal definition of a thesis exists, giving the researcher the right to reflect their work in ways appropriate to their value systems and community needs. While departments may expectations and standards for a thesis with their supervisor or committee. 

In this era of internationalization, reconciliation, and “Indigenization” of the academy, now more than ever, graduate students have the right to pursue their education and research in ways that are culturally appropriate and responsive. As stated in the Walk This Path With Us report, this can look like respectful support and encouragement to study topics that are relevant to them and their communities through diverse and innovative hypotheses and methodologies. The GSS believes this is vital to adaptive and ethical research and must extend beyond Indigenous students to reflect the needs of a diverse research community. 

Community Engagement and Intellectual Property

Academia has a long history and ongoing practice of research and work that marginalises the voices of communities including houseless, refugee, immigrant, differently abled, and Indigneous peoples. The Graduate Student Society believes that academics must be accountable to the communities they are working with at all stages of the process, including respecting agency, considering how we enact consent, and how intellectual property is understood and held.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Art. 31) states that Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop all aspects of their traditional knowledge including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

Research 101 Manifesto, a collaborative effort between academics and members of the Downtown Eastside community, further outlines research considerations surrounding ethics, understanding power, and reciprocity in communities marginalised by academic structures. 

As a researcher of SFU, it is likely that you will have many ethical responsibilities outside of the university. Your supervisor or Department should not prevent or inhibit your ability to follow your responsibilities to your research communities in accordance with UNDRIP, Tri-Council Policy Statement on ethics, or the specific protocols of the community you are working with. 

Remember, that you are in control of your thesis and obligated to all of these ethical responsibilities. It is suggested that you have a dialogue and documented agreement with your supervisor through which ethical responsibilities, timelines, and expectations are outlined. If you feel like you are being pressured to ignore these ethical responsibilities, please connect with the GSS Advocacy office.


You have the right to publish any portion of your thesis prior to or after your defense so long as it meets the requirements of copyright or IP permission regarding any figures, photos, or elements from other sources.

It is important to note that every journal has a different practice for declaring and holding intellectual property. You have a right to understand intellectual property is understood within a specific journal prior to publishing.

Your thesis or dissertation being held in the university library does not impact your copyright or ability to publish the product of your research elsewhere. You do have a right to fully understand how the library may use your thesis through its partial copyright license. 


Students have the right to clarity in all research funding agreements, whether internal or external, including the maximum amount of funding they are able to receive and how progress evaluations affect access to funding. 

Students have the right to expect support in accessing funding from their committee and Department.