Professors Get Schooled in Intellectual Property Policy
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a report last week detailing recent trends in patents and the relationship between faculty-inventors and their university-employers. The primary purpose of the report is to make professors aware of changing university policies in light of recent Supreme Court decisions.
Two years ago, in Stanford v Roche, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to a patent rests primarily with the inventor, a confirmation of long-standing U.S. patent law and principles. The case affirmed an inventor’s right, even under the Baye-Dole Act: legislation from 1980 that allowed assignment of ownership to an entity other than the government if the patentable item was invented using federal funds.
In the years since Stanford v Roche, universities have been steadily working to amend their employment policies in order to subvert the decision and regain ownership over faculty-produced intellectual property. The University of California system revised their patent acknowledgment policies shortly after the decision to reflect the automatic assignment of rights to inventions or patents created by or with university resources.
The University of Pennsylvania proposed a fairly strict non-compete clause, disallowing any faculty employed by the university to create or teach an online course through another academic provider without express permission from the university first.
With more professors and students taking the learning process online, these issues could have an enormous impact on the higher educational industry. Traditional models of teaching and employment once meant that full-time faculty were given the resources to not only fulfill their teaching responsibilities, but also establish a long-term relationship—research, creative, or otherwise—between professor and institution. With the rise of adjunct faculty, it is now often necessary for part-time adjuncts to supplement their teaching schedules and income by creating stand-alone courses for online educational providers or relationships with other research companies or organizations.
The AAUP in this explanatory report is hoping to create a dialogue amongst professors and raise awareness of the policies that seem to be trickling down throughout academia, and with good reason. Universities are trying to get professors to sign these agreements that not only go against the ruling in Stanford v Roche, but also against the spirit of patent law for the last two centuries. Additionally, these patent policy changes and non-compete clauses could have implications beyond the realm of intellectual property protections and employment law. Higher Education is a field that has been rapidly changing over the past few decades. With budget cuts, decreased resources, and the increasing need to supplement a faculty income, university administrative changes such as those detailed above could disincentivize otherwise qualified and interested academics from joining the profession.