Intellectual Property Rights

This section deals in particular with Swiss copyright law and related topics such as licenses, patents and plagiarism. Copyright law and the related issues play a role in research in two aspects:

  • When re-using data that is or has been protected by copyright,
  • When your own research work is protected by copyright.


The Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights (Copyright Act, CopA) regulates that works which are intellectual creations, are perceptible to the senses and have a certain amount of individuality are protected by copyright (CopA Art 2).

A work is only protected by copyright when all of the  following three conditions are fulfilled:

The work must ...

  •  be an intellectual creation, that means that it must be created by a human being
  •  have an individual character.
  • be expressed in one form or the other

This definition is elaborated with a list of examples of everything that can be considered as a protected work (Art. 2, 2-4): "literary, scientific and other linguistic works; musical works and other acoustic works; works of art, in particular paintings, sculptures and graphic works; works with scientific or technical content such as drawings, plans, maps or three-dimensional representations; works of architecture; works of applied art; photographic, cinematographic and other visual or audio-visual works; choreographic works and works of mime. Computer programs are also works. Drafts, titles and parts of works, insofar as they are intellectual creations with an individual character, are also protected."

Research data cannot necessarily be considered to be copyrighted works. For example, if data are collected systematically, they are not the result of intellectual creation and do not have an individual character.
For example, in a survey, the survey questionnaire may be protected by copyright because a person has considered the questions and answer options needed to collect the data for his research.
However, the data collected through the survey are not works of intellectual creation and therefore do not fall under copyright law.

Copyright means that the author(s) have the right to acknowledge authorship. Furthermore, he/she has the right to determine ...

  • whether, when, how and under which copyright designation the own work is to be first published.
  • whether, when and how the work will be used.
  • whether, when and how the work may be changed;
  • whether, when and how the work may be used to create a second-hand work or included in a collective work.

The author may oppose any distortion of the work that violates his or her personality. Existing works may be parodied and published works quoted if the quotation serves as an explanation, reference or illustration and the scope of the quotation is justified by this purpose and the quotation is designated as such and the source.

A work is protected by copyright as soon as it is created. This protection generally expires 70 years after the death of the author of the work. Computer programs are excluded, here the term of protection is only 50 years after the death of the author. If the author of a work is unknown, respectively the author cannot be found with reasonable effort, the protection of the work expires 70 years after its publication. However, this assumption may not be made lightly.

Authors may grant other persons the rights to use their works, without assigning their copyrights. Authors give their consent that their work may be used in a certain way and clarify in the license agreement the conditions for the use of their work.

Licenses are very important for the reusability of research data. Others can only use published data if they know under which conditions they are allowed to use it.

For research data and its metadata, the use of Creative Commons licenses (CC licenses) is very common. Creative Commons are various standard license agreements with which authors can determine how other people may use, distribute and edit their work by marking it with simple icons. The licenses are applicable to any copyrighted work and are not tailored to specific types of work.

 For software the use of CC licenses is unusual. There are a lot of own licenses for free and open source software (FOSS), that can be used by programmers to license the usage rights to their computer programs and to make the editable source code accessible. CC Digital Law has compiled extensive information about FOSS licenses.

Sometimes research results can satisfy an economically significant customer need.  They can form the basis for the development of a new product that will find a market. This applies in particular to research results from Faculties of Medicine, Psychology and Science and can be new technologies, newly discovered or newly manufactured substances, or any refinement or novel application of an existing product.

A patent is an industrial property right for a technical invention. The owner of a patent is entitled to prohibit others from using the invention. It grants him the exclusive right to make, use or sell an invention. The term of protection is generally 20 years.
Inventions must meet certain conditions in order to be patented. They must be new, not obvious and useful. Scientific theories without a specific application are not patentable. Before a patent application is filed, the invention may not be disclosed through publication or presentation.
Companies often try to gain a competitive advantage by applying for a patent for products and processes that lead to a technical, economic or marketing advantage. This is because the patent protects their development from imitation by competing companies. In particular, inventions that require high investments for their economic implementation are only of interest to industrial partners if they are protected by a patent.

For more information on the topic and services, please visit the unitectra website.

The term plagiarism refers to the assumption of a third party's intellectual achievement, such as the output of third party texts or ideas as one's own. Plagiarism violates the law; in particular, not marking quotations is a violation of copyright. In any case, however, it violates good scientific practice and according to the student regulations of the University of Basel (ยง 11,e), plagiarism is a disciplinary error.

If research data are re-used, they must be quoted in the same way as publications. The following citation is common: Author, Data Set Title, Repository, Version, Persistent Identifier.