Office of General Counsel


Whenever the University receives requests for information, or site visits from government regulatory and investigative agencies, it is important that the OGC be notified immediately. The OGC will determine whether the request or visit is legally valid, coordinate the University’s response, and notify appropriate senior officers. Refer all attorneys representing regulatory authorities or the government to the OGC.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA") and Brown University's FERPA Policy provide that, with limited exceptions, a Student’s Education Records may only be disclosed to third parties with the prior written consent of the Student.

Whenever official legal documents are received at the University, you should forward them immediately to the OGC as they typically have short deadlines to respond. Examples include subpoenas requiring the University to produce copies of records in court proceedings, summonses notifying the University that a lawsuit has been commenced against it, notices of bankruptcy, and notices informing the University of its right to participate in consumer class action suits.

Whenever a constable attempts to hand-deliver an official legal document, you should inform the individual that you do not have authority to accept service of the document on behalf of the University, and that the document should be taken instead to the OGC, which will determine whether it can be accepted by the University.

You should tell the individual that Brown's OGC represents the University and refer the attorney to the OGC. Remember, anything you say, can be used against you.

Federal law requires that special procedures be followed when the University receives a subpoena or other request for access to Education Records regarding Students. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA") and Brown University's FERPA Policy provide that, with limited exceptions, a Student’s Education Records may only be disclosed to third parties with the prior written consent of the Student. Likewise, there are state and federal laws limiting when an individual’s health records can be disclosed.

Whenever a subpoena or request for education or health records is received, the subpoena or request should be immediately forwarded to the OGC. No access to records should gained until the OGC has reviewed the request.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) provides students certain rights of access, privacy, and protection of education records. The Brown University FERPA Policy outlines those rights and applies to all individuals that maintain, access, or otherwise use education records on behalf of the University, including but not limited to faculty, staff, and other University representatives. When a student reaches the age of 18, is no longer a "dependent" of the parent(s) or guardian(s) for federal income tax purposes, or attends a postsecondary institution, regardless of age, all FERPA rights belong to the student. Prior written consent from the student is required before the University can disclose information from a student’s education record to a parent or guardian outside of the allowable methods under FERPA as listed in the FERPA Policy. For more information and to obtain a consent form, please refer to the FERPA Policy.

The Brown University Code of Conduct outlines Brown University's respect for Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression and Inquiry. Brown University affirms that academic freedom is essential to the function of education and to the pursuit of scholarship in universities and, mindful of its historic commitment to scholarship and to the free exchange of ideas, affirms that members of the community shall enjoy full freedom in their teaching, learning, and research. This includes freedom of religious belief, of speech, of press, of association and assembly, of political activity inside and outside the University, the right to petition the authorities, public and University, to invite speakers of their choice to the campus, and that students and faculty members as such should not be required to take any oath not required of other citizens. The time, place, and manner of exercising these rights on the campus shall be subject to reasonable regulation only to prevent interference with the normal functions of the University. The University’s commitment to academic freedom can be found in full in the Faculty Rules & Regulations, Part 5, Section 12.I.C.

No. Only authorized officers of the University have been granted delegation of signature authority to bind the University by signing contracts. Please review the Delegations of Signature Authority for Contracts for more information.

The contract may be considered invalid or void.

The Brown University name and logo are registered trademarks of Brown University. The Brown Name Use Policy outlines rules for the use of the institution's name and likeness for the internal campus community and external individuals and organizations. Please contact Marketing Communications in the Office of University Communications for all requests to use Brown University trademarks.

It depends. There are many factors which may determine whether or not you can use a copyrighted work for a particular purpose without infringing someone's ownership rights. Please refer to the Brown University Copyright Ownership and Use Policy. The Library has resources to assist in determining if your intended use qualifies as Fair Use.

Take the Copyright Crash Course 


Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression in the categories of literature, music, drama, choreography, the visual arts, movies, sound recordings, architecture, and computer programs. Copyright law confers exclusive rights on the author or owner to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works based on the work, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the work, and to publicly perform or publicly display the work. Copyright arises automatically when an author creates a work and generally lasts for the author’s life plus seventy years after the author’s death. It is not necessary to register a work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to copyright it.

The doctrine of “fair use” permits the use of some copyrightable expression when, for example, the use is for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.

You should seek advice or more information on copyright or using copyrighted works even if

  •          You gave credit to the author
  •          You are offering the work for free
  •          You are only using a small portion of the original work
  •          You plan to change and adapt the original work
  •          You found the image on an internet search
  •          The work is out-of-print
  •          The work does not contain a copyright notice

For more information about copyrights, visit:

Brown’s Library Guide on Fair Use

Brown’s Copyright Ownership and Use Policy

U.S. Copyright Office’s Compendium


Trademark law protects brand names, logos, slogans, sounds, products packaging, colors, or any device that serves to distinguish goods or services in commerce. Names and short phrases are trademarks that are excluded from copyright protection. The purpose of trademark law is to prevent confusion in the marketplace as to the source of the goods sold. The key factors in determining whether a mark would cause consumer confusion are the strength of the mark; the degree of similarity in the marks in sound, sight, and meaning; and the relatedness of the goods or services. Trademarks may arise automatically in a limited geographic region when a merchant uses the mark in commerce, but for national protection, the trademark must be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Trademarks are perpetual with timely renewal.

For more information about trademarks, visit:

Brown’s Name Use Policy

USPTO’s Trademark Basics


Patent law protects new, nonobvious, and useful inventions, including machines, devices, chemical compositions, and manufacturing processes. The United States Patent and Trademark Office assigns each patent application to an examiner with technical training in the pertinent field who conducts a search of prior art and determines whether the invention is new, nonobvious, and useful.  If granted, a patent lasts for twenty years from the date of the application. A patent does not necessarily provide the holder any affirmative right to practice a technology, but rather, it provides the right to exclude others from practicing it.

For more information about patents, visit:

Brown’s Patent and Invention Policy

USPTO’s Patent FAQs  

The Office of the General Counsel advises Brown and its faculty and staff on specific copyright, trademark, and patent questions.  Please contact OGC with any questions or issues related to intellectual property.

Generally, yes. Brown's Employee Defense and Indemnification Policy provides for the defense, representation and indemnification of employees who are acting within the course and scope of their assigned duties and are sued in their official or individual capacities, whether criminally or civilly. The University has the sole discretion in deciding whether to represent and defend an employee. Grounds for refusing a defense include the existence of fraud, bad faith, malice; or the employee was acting outside the course or scope of employment (e.g. finding of sexual harassment); or if the University determines that it would not be in the best interests of the University.  

No. The OGC oversees all legal affairs of Brown. OGC is authorized to hire all outside counsel to represent Brown as needed. For a list of OGC attorneys and their practice areas, please see the OGC people webpage.

No. The OGC does not represent or advise individual faculty members, staff, or students about personal legal matters.

Information can be obtained from the Rhode Island Bar Association and Rhode Island Legal Services regarding a variety of legal issues of a personal nature, including on how to find a lawyer. Individuals may contact the Rhode Island Legal Services Pro Bono Volunteer Law Program (1-800-339-7758) for a referral to a lawyer in your area. Specifically for students, there is an on-campus program to provide legal consultation to Brown undergraduate, graduate, and medical students. The services are contracted through the Division of Campus Life and funded by the Undergraduate Council of Students, Graduate Student Council, and the Med School.

It depends. The mere existence of a relationship between an attorney and client does not automatically guarantee confidentiality of privilege. Generally, only communications between a client and an attorney that are made for the purpose of seeking legal advice, a legal opinion or assistance in a legal proceeding are considered privileged. The communication must be intended to be confidential when made - the OGC recommends documents be marked as "Privileged and Confidential" as appropriate, including email communications. Routine, nonprivileged communications do not become privileged just by sharing them with the OGC. Most importantly, you should not share privileged and confidential communications with other individuals (e.g. forwarding a privileged email to a group of people) as it may waive the privilege. The OGC recommends that you do not forward communications that came from the OGC to any party other than its intended recipients without express permission from the OGC.

The Insurance Office is the part of Strategic Purchasing, Contracts & Insurance that is responsible for the University's self-insured and commercial insurance programs, including workers' compensation, general liability, auto, trustees & officers, camp, international, and property insurance. The Insurance Office is also responsible for overseeing the University's student health and dental insurance plans. Please contact the Insurance Office at if you have insurance specific questions.

It depends on the type of record. Please review the Brown University Records Policy and associated Record Retention Schedule for the established timetable for the retention and destruction of University records. The Schedule applies to records created or received in the course of University business regardless of format, including paper, digital, electronic, and video. Please note that a Litigation Hold supersedes any document retention policy which might otherwise require or permit the destruction of Records after a certain date or event.

Depending on the nature of the activity, you should report it to:

  • The Brown University Department of Public Safety
    • emergency calls should be directed to (401-863-4111)
    • non-emergency calls should be directed to (401-863-3322)
    • to report crimes anonymously, the Department of Public Safety has a Silent Witness Reporting Form
  • Brown also maintains an Anonymous Reporting Hotline, EthicsPoint, Inc. - a third party service provider, which is a simple and confidential way to report activities that may involve unethical behavior or behavior in violation of Brown University's established policies

It depends. Operating raffles and other games of chance where a fee is required to enter the raffle is prohibited by the State of Rhode Island unless licensed by the Division of the State Police. Please review the Brown University Raffle Policy for more information on how you can successfully conduct a raffle.