I am deciding if I should follow the academic path or work in industry. One of the perceived benefits of academia is the ownership of your own work, be it papers or patents. I want to know how much academia and industry differ in intellectual property (IP) rights.

I want to know if or how a research scientist or postdoc in industry gets rewards to solve a problem or innovate while working on a project? What does happen if the research scientists or the postdoc invent or innovate something which can be patented? Do they get a share of potential financial benefits? Will be the research scientist or the postdoc part of the owner of the patent alongside of the company?

I want to compare this to what happens in academia, so I asked a similar question here at Academia.

In case the place is important, I am mainly concerned with Europe and North America.

  • 1
    To short for a full answer, but some of the companies I've worked for have had a "patent bonus" of some kind, typically $1000-2000 when the company decides to apply for a patent based on your work. The reason the bonus isn't usually given when the company receives the patent is that the patent application process can take years, and my not be successful. The bonus isn't much compared to salary, but it's still nice to get. Most compensation is still in the traditional salary/stock/cash bonus forms
    – Greg
    Sep 22, 2020 at 12:56

4 Answers 4


tl,dr: If your question is about money: Researchers in industry have significantly higher earning potential than researchers in academia. In my experience, industry is also a lot more personally rewarding, but that depends on what you are after.

So I want to know if or how a research scientist in industry get rewards to solve a problem or innovate while working on a project?

That's your day to day job. You get paid for it and your career advancement depends on your ability to do so. Your compensation is dependent on your abilty to innovate and typically higher (Sometimes a lot) as in academia

What does happen if they invent or innovate something which can be patented?

Depends a bit on local legislation, but any IP you generate (patent or trade secret) belongs generally to the company.

Do they get a share of potential financial benefits? Will be the research scientist part of the owner of the patent alongside of the company?

Again depends on the company, but typically not directly. You are still the "inventor" but you have no financial rights to the invention. Howver technical leaders and innovators will often be rewarded with equitiy or bonusses that are tied to the business success of the company. If your innovaton actively contribute to the business success this can be substantial.

HOWEVER, I think your question are missing the key points. I've been a researcher in both areas and personally found industry to be much more rewarding.

  1. Impact The vast majority of academic results in papers that are read only by a small handful of people working on the same stuff. There are about 100 million papers published per year and 99.99% of those are utterly inconsequential. So why bother ? In industry you have a chance to develop technologies that might make it into real products and have real impact on real people's live. I found it extremely rewarding if I see people happily using product that I help creating.
  2. Resourcing and priorities : Academia felt like an endless slog of writing grants and proposal that are often skewed to the current political funding prioprities and not what's needed or meaningful. Industry is business orientated, so at least the priorities are clear and easy to understand. Getting decent tools and equipment is much easier, since you can argue productivity (which doesn't matter in academia)
  3. Career Advancement : Academia has two or three steps up the ladder which tend to be very constrained and that's it. Industry offers a wide variety of roles where you can move between fundamental research, applied research, hands-on product development and various individual constributor and/or management/leadership paths.
  • This varies from company to company, with the most successful and vibrant ones (imho) giving substantial rights of inventorship. My girlfriend has her name on a significant number of patents from her prior company, and the other year they wanted to purchase her out and offered her (and the other inventors) a generous amount, and then included it in a license they already had. For other patents they pay royalties if they decide to license them to 3rd parties. It is an incentive to write patents, in reality. it provides a personal reason to each employee to see value in the work they do.
    – Stian
    Sep 25, 2020 at 10:47

The same as with any other employee: if you show that you're good at your job, you get pay rises and/or promoted. There's nothing "special" about research science.

What does happen if they invent or innovate something which can be patented?

Then their employer owns the patent, either as a matter of that being the default in law when done as "work for hire", as an explicit condition in employment contracts, or often both.

Do they get a share of potential financial benefits?

A direct benefit would be very, very, very rare unless you actually own part of the company.


Depends on legislation. For Germany, there is a law that gives inventors the right to profit from their inventions. If you invent something, you legally have to tell your company, but the company has to get your idea patented or otherwise needs your agreement to do something else with your idea. Often there are incentives (a few hundred € for each submitted invention report) plus a share of gains when your invention is used in products. The share depends on your job title and how much your invention adds to the product. If you are not hired to invent something (if you are a janitor for example), your share is bigger, because it is not expected that you invent something on a regular basis and therefore gets less money. Mostly, the money from inventions is not enough to live from if you are hired as a normal engineer, but it's a nice addon.


It depends on the company internal policy.

Whatever you discover and/or patent while working for a company is intellectual property of the company, and some companies which want to stimulate their employees in coming with new ideas have programs to reward inventions and patents, while other simply pats on your shoulder and say well done.

In my career I have seen several examples: the simple "thank you", an engraved trophy with something along the line of "Thanks for you contribution to a patent of X" given during a general meeting, a monetary extra in the next pay slip.

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