Intellectual Property and Hackathons

In recent years Hackathons have gone from being a leading edge playful gathering of like minded people, to the innovation think tank of choice for some large corperations. How do we as academics remain alert to this complex landscape, and avoid the seemingly exploitative traits of corperate Hackathons worst offenders?

We are lucky as a team, to have had a bredth of experience with hackathons, whether as facilatators or participants, on the whole these experiences have been positive, but as participant observers immersed within this world we are aware that it can be a complex landscape.


For all the positive traits of a hackathon, it can be very easy to loose the playfulness and spirit of collaberation if you invite voluntary participation but wave NDAs at people on the door! 


As such, naturally we discussed and considered many factors and approches as we arranged our numers that Matter Hackathon, from where we advertised to our tone of voice, it was important to us that we treated our community of hackers, geeks designers and interested others with as much respect as we have our community groups. 


Clearly, although we were identifying as a 'hackathon', complete with prizes and pizza, we wanted to distance ourselves from the 'brogrammer' hackathon approach, we could certainly not have a hackathn with a focus on designing for wellbeing and civic awareness that expected our participants to work 48hours staright and survive mainly on Redbull! 


Our IP arrangements became one of the core documents to illustrate our apprach and our values, his is what we ran with ;


We want to talk about IP... we'd like you to keep it


We want to be very upfront about IP around the Hackathon, not least because as a university affiliated project, you may assume we want to own a % to lock down and license and we most certainly do not!


Numbers That Matter arose out of a desire to ‘give back’ ownership and understanding of the data that was affecting individuals and communities. Our ethos and roots are in hackerspaces and the open movement, whether Open Data or Open Source.


Our ideal winning Hack will be able to be refined and distributed, prototyped to perfection and able to get out there and be used by individuals in their communities. We want to be able to support all Hacks arising within the Hackathon without you feeling like we want to own and monetise your soul!


However, this is an AHRC funded research project, we would be disingenuous to fail to acknowledge that their support and the conditions created by this project has enabled whatever fantastic wearables emerge from it.


As such, by default all Hacks are under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons Licenses provide a standard way for content creators to grant someone else permission to use their work. A Creative Commons license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, or build upon a work that they have created.  This sounds like good practice knowledge exchange to us.


The specific license we have chosen is the  CC by SA – Creative Commons by Attribution-Sharealike.  This  license lets people remix, tweak and build upon the original work, even for commercial purposes, as long as you credit the original work and creators  and in our case, the Creative Exchange as the host.


So in theory, the ‘copyright notice’ for a hackathon work could be:

“ This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC-by-SA license: the creator was Joe Bloggs and it arose out of a Hackathon funded by the Creative Exchange ( You may remix, improve and build upon the original work so long as you attribute the creators and their circumstance in your derivative work.”


This is the default for IP, we’re happy to accommodate variants or alternative approaches individually – talk to us, maybe you have a favorite Creative Commons flavour you recommend?


However, it is fair to say that the Hackathon environment & vibe we are aiming for probably won’t suit the development of very closed IP, such as you working towards a patent. But that’s OK, the world already has more than enough patents…


CC types illustrated
Cropped from ‘How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos’ by under a CC-by-SA license