University Competition for little prize and no IP rights

My university has a good competition open to the university’s ID students with an outside manufacturer.

The competition is in two stages, stage one has a very small cash prize (about a seventh of the price of an Ipad) and the stage two prize isn’t listed, but is inferred the successful design will be manufactured.

This part of the brief is concerning me:

“The winners will relinquish the intellectual property of their idea to the company on receipt of the prize money”

Not in itself bad providing the prize money is large enough (the Reece Bathroom Innovation award for Australian students is Aus.$10,000) but the small cash prize is almost an insult, and I believe very close to ‘free-pitching’ which the Design Institute of Australia frowns upon: http://www.design.org.au/content.cfm?id=245

_How commercial is it?
To determine whether you are entering a genuine competition or a cleverly disguised pitch, a professional designer should apply the various questions of commerciality outlined in the DIA definition of a pitch.

Is the winning design likely to be used in the future as a commercially realised product? Does the competition holder own any commercial rights to the winning design? Is the competition holder a commercially established concern with a record for using or manufacturing competition designs further down the track?


What is the nature of your reward?
What is the exact nature of your ‘prize’ for winning the competition? Do you receive, or expect to receive, any payment in any form for the design work you have embarked upon? Are you competing against other designers with a history of pitching for other design work?

Ultimately, it is up to you as a professional designer to decide whether a competition is uncomfortably close to being a pitch or not, and act accordingly._

Should I:

  1. Don’t enter until the stage two prize is announced, then make my decision

  2. Enter, and if I’m good enough to win, get the recognition from the win but don’t accept the prize money, and then I’ll be in a position to negotiate the intellectual property with the company

  3. Enter, don’t be precious as I’m a student it will be good for my portfolio

  4. Don’t enter and steer away from this competition as it is a dodgy method for a company to get free design work?

I say: enter!

as you already have pointed out, you’re a student. Exposure and experience is everything.
I find it rather fair that only the winners are asked to give their rights to the designs. Putting on a Competition is expensive and squeezing production ready design work out of a student competition is very hard.

So my vote is definitely that you should go for it, sounds legit to me and you can only win.

why not? unless you have something better to do…

You have to be in it to win it. Opportunity is a combination of preparation and time/place… so why not be as prepared as possible and be in as many places as possible at as many times?

My one other less cliche piece of advice would be to calibrate success. In this case, success is not winning (only one person gets that and it is subject to the biases of the jurors which is out of your control), success is entering a competition, learning something new, polishing your skills, and building a portfolio piece.

Thanks for all the advice.

I clarified with the head of the school. 2 rounds, round one will have 10 winners to move onto round two, $100 prize each. Hand over IP rights. Round two one final winner, $1000 prize.

It seems to me a very cheap way for a company to get rights to 10 concepts, but as has been said, entering isn’t just about winning, god knows I need to improve my portfolio. I will enter.

That same company could spend the same amount of money and get a design consultancy to do 2 or 3 professional concepts, so if I were you I’d view it as a very good opportunity to build your skills, build your portfolio and potentially get your first product into production. The company is most likely doing this to provide students with an opportunity to see how it works in the real world.

In my experience, (from the company point of view) we have never received a concept out of any student design competition that was worthwhile manufacturing. The concepts are often impossible to produce or very poorly considered from a manufacturing viewpoint. The extra work required to detail the idea into a product was not worth it.

On the other hand, I can think of a specific example of an Australian company who were not involved in product development. They ran a student design competition to “test the waters” to learn about the process and see what results they could achieve. As a result of a favorable result, this company set up a product design office and hired 2 of the students.

View it as an opportunity to learn and not as a penny pinching exercise from the company.