The university versus the faculty — who reaps invention’s rewards?

June 14, 2011 at 10:06 am 1 comment

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.

via The Fair Rewards of Invention –

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  June 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I talked to the head of a small engineering company known for its innovation a couple of years ago. The subject of IP and universities came up and this company head (and holder of an amazing number of patents) told me that he has given up on trying to deal with universities on anything to do with IP. Too much trouble. Companies, even the most agressive, are easier to deal with.
    I also know of one university that requires a senior project for graduation. The university contract with students gives the university IP rights on the project (which may or may not be impacted by this decision BTW). There are many stories of students deciding that their project has real product value dropping out short of graduation to start their own company. My belief is that by trying to hold on to too much of the IP this university is hurting itself in the long run. They might be better off having students graduate with good feelings for the university.


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