Archive for June 14, 2011
I’ve heard the argument that the Bayh-Doyle act was the downfall of undergraduate education in America. By allowing universities to keep the intellectual property rights to sponsored research, an enormous incentive was created for universities to push faculty into research, and away from education. A recent Supreme Court ruling may have placed a limit on the Bayh-Doyle Act, by ruling that an individual researcher’s rights supersede the university’s. The New York Times editorial linked below is disappointed by this ruling, predicting increased tension between universities and faculty.
Looking for a silver lining, I wonder if this ruling might not create the opportunity to get back to education. Rich DeMillo continues to point out in his blog how research is a losing proposition for universities. Could this ruling reduce the incentive for universities to push research, by raising the costs (and lowering the potential benefits) of faculty research? (Rich’s latest blog post on the point directly addresses the nay-sayers who say that research only makes money for universities – a recommended and compelling read.)
Although the decision is based on a literal reading of a poorly drafted initial agreement between Stanford and the researcher, it is likely to have a broader effect. It could change the culture of research universities by requiring them to be far more vigilant in obtaining ironclad assignments from faculty members and monitoring any contracts between researchers and private companies. Relationships between the university and its faculty are likely to become more legalistic and more mercantile. By stressing “the general rule that rights in an invention belong to the inventor,” the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. romanticizes the role of the solo inventor. It fails to acknowledge the Bayh-Dole Act’s importance in fostering collaborative enterprises and its substantial benefit to the American economy.