Intellectual Property: A Boon or a Pain?
Owens, John M., ASEE Prism
Patents and technology transfer-two subjects that can produce a broad range of responses on any campus-are seen by governing boards and upper administration as vast, untapped sources of income for the institution. But for mid-level administrators, the commercialization of research is viewed as a mixed blessing. Sure, there are potential financial returns along with a lot of bureaucratic headaches. Faculty views run the gamut. Some see marketing research as a great source of income, while for others it's a painful, administrative nightmare.
How has this situation come about? Before 1989, the federal government owned and was responsible for all intellectual property (IP) produced under its sponsorship. However, it wasn't making broad use of the inventions in ways that would benefit the general public. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 gave universities the option of retaining rights to products created under federal sponsorship, with universities developing policies to share the derived revenues with the inventors.
Suddenly a new income source appeared in which inventors had a share. Most institutions have tried to apply this policy to all of their inventions regardless of whether the research is federally or privately funded. As a result of a few highly profitable patents (gene splicing and Gatorade, for example), most campuses have created an infrastructure for encouraging research that has commercial applications.
What are we required to do under Bayh-Dole? First, universities must have an agreement with the faculty about how patents will be handled and how royalties will be distributed-in other words, spelling out how faculty get a piece of the action. Secondly, schools must notify the feds about inventions and the status of patents. The feds get use of the patents for free and have the rights to the research if the university doesn't use it (which has never happened). …