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Universities Patenting More Student Ideas 383

Posted by kdawson
from the thanks-for-the-research dept.
theodp writes "Working as a NASA intern, grad student Erez Lieberman had a eureka moment, resulting in an algorithm that detects whether a person is standing correctly or is off balance. Unfortunately, MIT liked it so much they decided to patent it. Seeking permission to use his own idea for his iShoe startup, which develops products like insoles to address the problems of seniors, Lieberman was told no problem — as long as he promised a hefty royalty and forked over a $75,000 upfront payment. Whether or not students are aware of it, the NYTimes reports that most universities own inventions created by students that were developed using a 'significant' amount of schools resources. Colleges and universities once obtained fewer than 250 patents a year, but that was before the Bayh-Dole Act gave them ownership of inventions developed through federally financed research. Now they acquire about 3,000 a year, and in 2006 licensing fees and equity in spinoff companies totaled at least $45B — research powerhouses like Stanford and NYU pocketed $61M and $157M, respectively."
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Universities Patenting More Student Ideas

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  • Exploitation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mfh (56) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:28AM (#26318507) Journal

    The stupid exploit the smart.

    • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:15AM (#26318989)

      The stupid exploit the smart.

      Please. Most university faculty are a looong way from stupid. That said, while I understand the argument that university resources are being used in the creation of these "inventions" (ideas), surely the fact that THE STUDENTS ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR USE OF THESE RESOURCES should mean that they owe the university nothing, and anything outside of normal coursework is theirs to call their own.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tyrione (134248)

        The stupid exploit the smart.

        Please. Most university faculty are a looong way from stupid. That said, while I understand the argument that university resources are being used in the creation of these "inventions" (ideas), surely the fact that THE STUDENTS ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR USE OF THESE RESOURCES should mean that they owe the university nothing, and anything outside of normal coursework is theirs to call their own.

        Incorrect. They are paying tuition and fees, plus living expenses. None of that is covered in the research facilities and Federal Research dollars that build those facilities, pay for PhDs and have a built-in R&D factory.

        • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ivucica (1001089) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:08AM (#26319467) Homepage

          So writing an algorithm on a computer is suddenly expensive and causing large costs to the university, that would justify patenting a potentially revolutionary algorithm, and not giving it back to the student? Let the Croatian universities dare patent or even copyright something I worked on, unless it was specifically for the university, or as part of university work.

          In any case, this story teaches us something. Show only stupid ideas to the university, keep the others to yourself.

          • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:10PM (#26320427) Journal

            Except they have a weird squeeze play going on.

            1. It's hard for the mind to reach its absolute top limits if part of it is busy playing an IP metagame. There's some unknown amount of damage to the student here.

            2. The point of a classical Masters or Doctorate degree is to push the boundaries to achieve new results. So if you're saving your big ace in the hole it's the Elephant In The Room problem.
            (Degree committee) "This paper is kinda neat, but there's clearly something not stated... deny the degree. The student is hosed, so he has no choice but to tell us."

            Except weird super-high end Physical/Biosciences tests, and maybe a portion of CompSci, "education" consists of books plus 42 lectures plus a "sorta-reliable" proof to employers that you learned a little. We all know the soft degrees subsidize the scary equipment. We know Paper Publishing is a racket.

            But the IP ideas can be worth millions. With that last fragment in the equation, it just barely might NOT be worth going to a "top" university, and instead fish out a semi-obscure one that just happens to have beautifully liberal IP policies. When it comes to the usual boring interview question for resumes "Gee, why didn't you go to Harvard?" The answer is "Because I like owning MY business thank you."

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Qzukk (229616)

              The answer is "Because I like owning MY business thank you."

              Corporate HR droid: "Well, it just so happens we like owning your business as well. Don't call us, we'll call you."

        • Re:Exploitation (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:29AM (#26319565) Homepage

          This is akin to saying you pay for time on expensive research equipment and that facility OWNS what you've come up with. Typical bullshit said by someone who has no idea what they are talking about.

          You pay fees to rent both the teaching time and lab time. If I write a program on a rented laptop the program is OWNED BY ME not by the rental company.

          The same as if I borrow your lawn mower, you don't own my lawn.

      • by Morosoph (693565) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:04AM (#26319175) Homepage Journal

        "Property" addles the brain. Also, universities don't see their mission as helping the economy, so acts on their part which harm the formation of wealth are fine, as long as their research is protected.

        Government, however, should know better. But there, lawyers (such as most politicians) make the decisions, and law is centred around property (well, '9/10'ths of it is). Lawyers are often constitutionally incapable of comprehending how certain forms of "intellectual property" are counterproductive. Besides, politicians frequently confuse economics and finance, and are under constant pressure to reduce costs, rather than maximise productivity.

        Additionally, in terms of American politics, universities are expected to do what they can with their own "assets" according to industry norms; to do otherwise would seem "socialist". Ironically, this attitude results in a branch of the state owning wealth-creating ideas and effectively taxing them twice (once to use the idea, once with the profits made from the idea).

        This attitude on the part of Government isn't exclusive to the US. In my home city of Cambridge, UK, the university fought Government pressure to claim patent rights over student and staff discoveries. Here, ownership of one's ideas has had a long history. In the end some compromise (generous licence terms) was found, but the Government truly do not understand the harm that it is causing - ultimately to its own tax revenue.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Znork (31774)

          "Property" addles the brain.

          Well, even calling it "property" is the result of an addled brain. Or a deliberate misdirection.

          effectively taxing them twice

          Calling it "intellectual taxation" would be much more appropriate (or various other terms). From a macroeconomic point of view IP is fairly close to taxes in effect; worse in some aspects, combining the less socioeconomic desireable effects of both into a single really destructive form.

          For example, even apart from the vast damage to combinatory inventions,

        • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Sunday January 04, 2009 @10:26AM (#26319807) Homepage

          ...is because it shows up on their balance sheets. Investors like it because instead of R&D being a cost to a company, it now becomes a profit center because R&D creates "IP", much like a shovel and pick create/discover "minerals" that can be sold or exploited.

          Never mind that IP is nothing like actual property; they'll keep passing more laws to make an idea seem more like a thing for investment purposes.

          Plus, then IP shows up in GDP, can be bought and sold, and "creates wealth". Never mind that it's the equivalent of eating your seed corn to lock away knowlege, the human condition always values being satisfied now versus building for the future.

      • by afidel (530433)
        No, it's business majors and politicians (generally the less intelligent of their law class) exploiting people who actually come up with useful ideas.
      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        University faculty wouldn't set up this kind of patent policy. I'd think a lot of them would be against it.

        Now university administration... now there's your idiocy.

      • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Informative)

        by ZombieWomble (893157) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @10:28AM (#26319821)
        The question is, are the students paying enough? Universities have some really quite impressive financial bullshit going on, and the amount they claim many things cost seems quite divorced from reality, even compared to the already high costs of tuition.

        The situation is somewhat different in the UK, but the costs my university reports to funding bodies and the like is typically 5 to 10 times that of the actual tuition/salary level - pretty much regardless of the levels of facilities used. Thus the position of the university is that the student's education is in all cases heavily subsidized by university money, and that justifies their position on IPR (which, to be fair, is also much more lax than the one reported in the article at my university at least).

      • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Informative)

        by krunk7 (748055) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:54PM (#26320739)

        surely the fact that THE STUDENTS ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR USE OF THESE RESOURCES should mean that they owe the university nothing

        I don't have a problem with this policy. Here's why:

        • I consider it part of my payment. I signed a contract, the terms were clear and unambiguous. I've been to two major campuses and in each not only was the contract I signed clear, but I was reminded of the fact numerous times in numerous classes and by my PI's. This wasn't much the case in Liberal Arts, probably because of the lack of marketable goods that come out of that department. In the sciences though, I was informed from day one (literally, the "welcome new engineers" seminar).
        • In practice, I find the universities I've worked with to be extremely generous in defining "significant contribution". I've participated in about 3 or 4 patentable projects, one of which is being picked up by a development group (we needed extra funding and support due to class III FDA approval costs).
        • A significant portion of the students at a university receive financial aid (from 55-75% or more). Tuition can't be the sole source of funding.
        • Though occasionally you see a student's senior project that is just amazingly patentable. But most of these patents (that don't come from faculty) come from Graduate students or students working on special projects outside the immediate scope of their education. They also receive significant support from university staff, access to extremely expensive equipment otherwise not available to them, and a smorgasbord of other people's ideas to launch off of. The policy in this case is no different then if one was to "volunteer" at their local engineering shop.

        With all this, generally it is only if the student's idea is based on an existing body of research (say a refinement of an area of his PI's work) or if he received significant faculty/university support in development of the idea/product. The "slice" that the university takes is quite reasonable at the universities I've worked with/at. It's far less than a VC would take (typically 80-95% or more).

        And finally, the summary (no surprise here) is grossly inflammatory. It makes it sound like this guy was drinking Mountain Dew and chilling at the house when all of a sudden bam! He comes up with this amazing algorithm all by his lonesome. Please, this work was shared by many researchers from several institutions with a fair amount of start up capital to get going (50,000 from a competition and developed at the NASA research center). Patent owners include 4 other individuals as well as NASA, Harvard, and UC San Diego in addition to MIT. It was developed specifically to treat loss of balance in astronauts and later Lieberman decided to investigate its viability in the private sector.

        "Eureka moments" don't exist, at least not the way popular media/literature portrays it. Any decent eureka! is preceded by years and years of training and diligence or followed by the same. Having an idea is not the same as making an idea happen.

        Far from a patent apologist, but this one's a stretch.

        • by Geof (153857) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @02:44PM (#26321603) Homepage

          "Eureka moments" don't exist, at least not the way popular media/literature portrays it. Any decent eureka! is preceded by years and years of training and diligence or followed by the same.

          It makes it sound like this guy . . . comes up with this amazing algorithm all by his lonesome. . . . this work was shared by many researchers from several institutions with a fair amount of start up capital to get going . . . Patent owners include 4 other individuals as well as NASA, Harvard, and UC San Diego in addition to MIT.

          You've nailed it. This is the problem with IP. One the one hand, creativity and innovation are always the result of collaboration between large numbers of people (much of it informal, unconscious, or indirect). On the other, IP allocates exclusive rights to an individual or organization. Invariably, many or most of the contributors are excluded while the IP owner free-rides on their work. Furthermore, because ownership ends up being held by many hands, future work is often forstalled. It runs into the tragedy of the anticommons [wikipedia.org]: all owners must give their permission, and each owner is inclined to overvalue their contribution - not surprising, given that the system has already overvalued it by giving ownership to more than they produced.

          Why? As lawyer James Boyle so eloquently details in his book Shamans, Software & Spleens, the legal system continues to make counterproductive rulings precisely because of the romantic myth of the lone inventor or author who has that Eureka! moment and creates something new out of thin air. The illusion you dismiss is a core foundation of the system as it stands (for copyright too, if you look back at the development of the concept of authorship, which is quite recent historically).

          Let me make it clear what I have said and what I have not said (not necessarily for you, but people will make assumptions): I am not making a claim about the ideal outcome in this case. Neither am I proposing to abolish patents or IP - something I could not do without weighing their costs against their benefits. My beef is with your arguments.

  • Great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clang_jangle (975789) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:30AM (#26318515) Journal
    ...I guess some inventive students are receiving more of an education than they bargained for. Shameful behavior from institutions which really ought to be setting a better example.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by gowen (141411)

      I guess some inventive students are receiving more of an education than they bargained for

      Well they should've read the IP document they signed when they took the funding, then.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by rxan (1424721)

        Well they should've read the IP document they signed when they took the funding, then.

        Most institutions will try to take ideas whether or not funding was provided. They will try to use the excuse that you "used the institution's facilities" to work on your project. Isn't that what my tuition paid for?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It's the same with employment. Hell, ages ago I had a packing job. It was brain dead work that just got me some money to get by in my youth. I still had to sign something that said if I invent something within the company or with their resources then they own it.

          I can see why a university thinks it should get ownership. You paid for the education and you're getting an education. Creating something new isn't necessarily part of that process and you may not have been able to do it without their resources.
      • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by philspear (1142299) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:02AM (#26318691)

        Well they should've read the IP document they signed when they took the funding, then.

        Not sure how it works in most fields, but in the one I'm in, it's your boss that gets the funding, not you. So their boss should have told them that. Of course, even if they had, this situation would STILL be ridiculous. It's not like students have much bargaining power, especially when it comes to who gets the rights. Not accepting the bargain would mean the student in question would be working AT a shoe store, not running a software company for them.

        • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:06AM (#26319455) Journal
          My university had an IP statement in the student handbook, which contains all of the university regulations. It was quite near the front, as I recall. If students fail to read it, that's there problem not the university's. If you do work that you don't want the university to own then:
          • Don't submit it for assessment - coursework is owned by the university.
          • Don't work on it on university equipment without getting your supervisor to agree, in writing (an email is probably enough - not legally binding, but probably enough to get the IP department to decide it's not worth pursuing), that it's a personal project.
          • Don't take money to work on anything if you want to own the result.

          Given the number of stories like this that hit the press, it should be well-known by now that your employer or university owns your work unless you have an explicit exemption. I live in a jurisdiction where software patents are invalid, and added a section to the grant application that work from the projects I've worked on would be released under a BSD license, so I can take them and do whatever I want with them (so can anyone else) after the project has finished. Most academics are more interested in reputation than money, so it's generally easy to get them to agree to permissive licensing, as long as you do it in advance.

          • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Edgester (105351) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:47AM (#26320265) Homepage Journal

            It doesn't disturb me me that university owns the patent instead of the student, but what does disturb me is that the university owns the patent for research paid by public tax dollars.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by langelgjm (860756)

              It doesn't disturb me me that university owns the patent instead of the student, but what does disturb me is that the university owns the patent for research paid by public tax dollars.

              Right, and before Bayh-Dole, that wasn't the case - the funding federal agency would own the patent, and could license it to people.

              The Bayh-Dole act was created because so few of those government-held patents were actually being licensed - the government was just sitting on them, partially because practically every agency had different rules for licensing, etc.

              It's well documented that after the Bayh-Dole act, the number of patents granted to universities did increase significantly. However, the more serio

    • by djupedal (584558)
      >"Shameful behavior from institutions which really ought to be setting a better example."

      Bah - that's nothing. Wait until the idea hits high school robot competitions... [usfirst.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Companies do this too. I don't really see the difference. Your fees cover very little of the R&D you do in graduate work, that money is not yours and there is always a deal to sign to get it. At the end you have what you came for, a PhD or whatever.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eil (82413)

        Companies do this too. I don't really see the difference. Your fees cover very little of the R&D you do in graduate work, that money is not yours and there is always a deal to sign to get it. At the end you have what you came for, a PhD or whatever.

        There is a major difference: Companies exist for the sole purpose of making money. Colleges are believed to exist to foster higher learning. The problem is that colleges and universities are looking less and less like educational institutions and more like lo

  • by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:31AM (#26318527)
    I believe the justification for patents is that it encourages innovation, allowing products to come to market that would otherwise never see the light of day. To be honest, I have always been pretty skeptical, but it seems particularly difficult to square such a claim when inventors are prevented from using their own inventions. If MIT wants to patent its students' work, it should at least exempt those who had the idea in the first place from paying royalties.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mashiki (184564)

      Makes a lot of sense to do it the correct way, nope on the other hand this turns around and makes sure that those brilliant idea never see the light of day in some cases and in other cases where the funds should go to the student/entrepreneur so they can get their own startup going, it never happens.

    • An institution would probably do what most engineering firms do: require the inventor to hand over all rights to the invention for some token amount. Makes legal issues hella easy to resolve. ;)

    • by AigariusDebian (721386) <aigarius@debia[ ]rg ['n.o' in gap]> on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:47AM (#26319111) Homepage

      Easy solution - go to EU. The patent as described is a pure software patent and would be invalid outside US (and Japan). Way to squash innovation, US. :P

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:49AM (#26319371) Homepage Journal

        Easy solution - go to EU. The patent as described is a pure software patent and would be invalid outside US (and Japan). Way to squash innovation, US. :P

        You forgot sell to EU. The US and every country getting on board with "our" (not mine) IP laws makes it a crime to sell that program in the US, because the patent is still valid here.

        This is what the Gates Foundation is about - they are not there to cure disease. It's easy to see that not every country is going to let them in to vaccinate, because you have to basically adopt US IP law (esp. regarding patents - this is about big pharma) to get the vaccinations.

        Canada is rapidly coming on board as well, although I've certainly never heard from a Canadian who thinks that our IP law is sensible. And the fight is beginning to heat up over which parts of Central & South America will get in line.

    • by Genda (560240)

      I don't understand??? Then how can the educational institution rape it's students??? I mean all's fair in love and being a greedy bastard, right? Schools are "for profit organizations", and nothing says KA-Ching $$$$ quite like stealing the intellectual creations of your students...

      Oh yeah, you know some chancellor someplace is building a golden parachute large enough to float east Texas!

    • by darjen (879890)

      I believe patents do nothing to encourage innovation. Actually they stifle innovation because you can't improve on someone else's work. And in this case, MIT has essentially robbed a student of using their work and knowledge.

      It all comes down to the fallacious notion that someone's idea can be property.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:34AM (#26318543)

    The university where I graduated from forced all students to sign an agreement that any work that you do while a student of the university, they hold all the copyrights.

    I have come up with ideas and made many music recordings, all of which I have have zero right to exploit as I do not own the rights. It doesn't matter if the work was done at home or at a university campus.

    • by Yokaze (70883) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:07AM (#26318713)

      Copyright, not patent. Also was it the exclusive copyright?

      If I am not mistaken, at my university, they get the right to copy my works done for the universtity (papers, reports, thesis, a.s.o ), but I still retain my copyright as the author.
      Patents are a different matter: They only get it, when I choose to apply for the patent through the university. Then they take care of the legal and commercial matters and I get a share of the profit (IRC, 30 percent).

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:00AM (#26318913) Journal

        at my university, ... Patents are a different matter: They only get it, when I choose to apply for the patent through the university. Then they take care of the legal and commercial matters and I get a share of the profit (IRC, 30 percent).

        So the University gets their name on the patent for your work, they sign a contract granting you 30% of 'profit' derived from the patent, and here's the important part: you have no control over the licensing fee.

        So if you want to use their patent, guess what, they can make the licensing fee extortionate enough that you cannot follow through on your business plan.

        Kind of like what is happening to Mr. iShoe.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by psnyder (1326089)
          The above guy said: "They only get it, when I choose to apply for the patent through the university." Sounds like the student's choice to me. The summary didn't make it sound like it was the student's choice. But the July article says:

          Lieberman and other iShoe team members have applied for a patent on the technology, to be jointly held by MIT, Harvard and NASA.

          Sounds like he went the university route. He ('they' actually) should've read the fine print.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:35AM (#26318549) Homepage Journal

    "Whaddya mean they patented our Toga Party concept?"

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:36AM (#26318555) Journal
    If these are being funded by Federal dollars, than it should look carefully at how these are administered. In particular, part of the earnings should go back to the feds. But, also, I wonder wether the feds can say we allow the university TRUE LIMITED TIMES with these. The idea of patents and copyrights (as laid out by forefathers) was to give ppl LIMITED time to build businesses off these, make some money and then allow the idea to revert to the COMMONWEALTH. That is, into public space. Now, congress has changed it so that the patent is the money maker.
    • If these are being funded by Federal dollars, than it should look carefully at how these are administered.

      I'd go one better. If the taxpayers pay for it, the taxpayers own it. There's something cynical and wrong imho that a university can take federal dollars for basic research, then turn around and charge those same taxpayers for the right to use the inventions stemming from that research. If you want to lock up the discoveries, don't take federal dollars.

      If it were up to me I'd expand that to every

  • by Blittzed (657028) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:43AM (#26318587)
    In Australian Universities (at least the one I work for anyway), students retain all IP rights to any research they conduct. As staff though, we get no rights for anything we come up with. Well, it used to be that way until one professor who developed a new way to treat liver cancer challenged the University he worked for. The judege ruled in his favour stating that there is no contractual 'duty to invent'. Here's the story if anyone is interested...

    http://http//www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=404351&sectioncode=26 [http]

    • by aussie_a (778472) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:25AM (#26318783) Journal

      Holy shit! Australia isn't batshit insane for once. I guess Howard never got around to the universities.

      • Oh yes he did, the "HELP" scheme...

      • by fabs64 (657132)

        Eeek.

        HELP, VSU, as well as "Academics" being the primary targets in his culture wars.

        Howard knew damn well where disagreement with his extremism was most likely to present itself.

    • In Australian Universities (at least the one I work for anyway), students retain all IP rights to any research they conduct. As staff though, we get no rights for anything we come up with. Well, it used to be that way until one professor who developed a new way to treat liver cancer challenged the University he worked for. The judege ruled in his favour stating that there is no contractual 'duty to invent'. Here's the story if anyone is interested...

      http://http//www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=404351&sectioncode=26 [http]

      Whilst this is technically correct it also misleading; yes it is true that in Australia students own the IP to anything they produce whilst doing a research degree, however, if you read the fine print on the application/enrolment form you will find that there is a clause which gives those rights back to the institution, you must sign this section to recieve any tuition fee scholarship (in Australia most graduate research students have their tuition paid by the Government but the assignment of these funds is

  • Bass Ackwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FauxReal (653820) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:44AM (#26318593) Homepage
    Funny, I thought the whole tuition thing was your payment for using their academic resources and facilities? Otherwise, shouldn't they be paying students for their development work?
    • by Swizec (978239)
      In slovenia postgrad "students" usually ARE paid for their research and their tuition only goes towards the few classes and exams they take on the course to their master's or doctorate. I think that's a lovely solution to the whole IP thing, because you were paid to invent and got to do the thesis on paid time, it's only fair that the university gets what you invent.

      More often than not, if you want to develop your research further than the thesis after getting your doctorate they are willing to continue pa
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Until you're out of school.

    This crap will hurt the schools in the long run. Instead of being able to pickup a patent here and there. People will work hard to keep their ideas secret until they are free and clear of the schools influence. And the schools get NOTHING.

    Yet another case of excessive greed ruining something good.

    Great work there.

    • by rxan (1424721) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:56AM (#26318661)
      I completely agree. I attend University of Toronto, and the first thing our prof said about our senior year project was "If you have some ideas you are passionate about that may be profitable, keep them out of the project."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Beetle B. (516615)

      Until you're out of school.

      This crap will hurt the schools in the long run. Instead of being able to pickup a patent here and there. People will work hard to keep their ideas secret until they are free and clear of the schools influence. And the schools get NOTHING.

      While in this particular case I'd agree, in general I don't.

      The reality is most people who come up with good ideas in school end up never trying to make a profit out of them.

      In both universities I've attended, if a professor does some work that the university patents, then he gets a cut of any profits, and none of the loss. The article said 1/3, I recall it being more like 1/6. That is a damn good deal. This way, the professor gets free money while still doing the job he loves. Of course, they still have th

  • Waterloo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kcbanner (929309) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:11AM (#26318737) Homepage Journal
    At the University of Waterloo, the policy is that any student created IP is property of that student. Its awesome. I love it.
    • by antic (29198)

      Could this freedom become a point of difference between providers of tertiary education in the future? e.g., you're choosing to study/research at Provider A or B. A might be closer to home and slightly cheaper, but B isn't going to screw you when it comes to IP and the like.

  • Patent it First? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HJED (1304957) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:11AM (#26318739)
    There is a simple solution here:
    If you have a realy good idea that you intend to start a business with then patent it before you submit your work!
    You would have to do it anyway
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Constantin (765902)

      Not that easy...

      While I agree that the terms that most Intellectual Property Offices (IPOs) offer are rapacious, the benefits of having someone else invest $300K to secure worldwide patent rights also have to be considered. Particularly, if that institution has big pockets and hence some bloodthirsty lawyes only too happy to sue a big multinational for patent infringement. On the other hand, if you are a little company, a large company might just ignore your patent because patent litigation tends to be a ci

  • look over any paperwork for any class/university before signing it. if there is anything about inventions, works of art, essays, etc becoming university property, refuse to sign until the contract is amended. if they will not do it, vote with your dollars and promise bad publicity (there's no need for libel or slander when the truth is this ugly).

    ianal, but i would assume that a university claiming rights to someone's work without a written agreement would not be viewed too positively in any court.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      look over any paperwork for any class/university before signing it.

      Would that be before or after your enrollment was accepted?

      If before, then I don't see that you've got a case, unless the university really really wants you to attend. Your threat of bad publicity might not go that far...

      If it's part way through your course when this contract is put in front of you and you are threatened with not being able to continue your course if you don't sign away your rights, then I could well imagine 'current affairs

  • So, here we have yet more patents doing a bang-up job of protecting the rights and interests of the actual inventors, which we were indoctrinated to believe is the purpose of the patent system, eh? Do you suppose we were told a lie?

    This is nothing new. Walt Disney was able to patent Mickey Mouse many decades ago even though the character was a blatant ripoff of a physical toy (which had already been trademarked or patented, can't recall which).

    The patent system does nothing to protect the rights of actual

  • When huge, already established corporate entities and institutions will have monopoly on making money, we will be thrown into another period of medieval dark ages.

    Let's hope a revolution will take place before that.

    When did humans lose out in significance in favour of corporations?

    • by pipingguy (566974) *
      Let's hope a revolution will take place before that.

      Yes, let's all take to the streets with guns to resolve this social injustice. Are you a libarts grad or did you just drop out? I'm not ruling out the possibility of your mom's doctor having slippery fingers, though, so your outlook might not be your fault.
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:41AM (#26318839) Homepage Journal

    If you don't want the Uni to own your ideas, then don't use their resources to develop them. The same goes for business, if you work for a corporation and use their resources to develop an idea, then they own it.

    You might not like it, but our society and legal system prefers those who take the most [financial] risk, not those who are the most creative.

  • by psnyder (1326089) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:59AM (#26318907)

    We should be careful here. The system may be best left as is. The idea is that:

    most universities own inventions created by students that were developed using a 'significant' amount of schools resources.

    This is to protect universities against people taking 99% of the university's idea/invention, adding 1%, and then using the university's research to make money while the university keeps begging for donations. Some universities may be fine monetarily, but some need all the money they can get to keep up their standards.

    Onto this case. Perhaps MIT & NASA already had the equipment and a similar algorithm that Lieberman simply added an elegant flourish to. If that's the case, he should get some joint arrangement going, but he shouldn't be allowed to pass it off as if he developed the entire thing himself. But what it actually sounds more like, is they both sides significantly contributed, which makes things difficult.

    He can try to prove that the university's contribution to the project was "insignificant", but that's going to be a hard sell. If I were him, I'd see what friends I still have in the MIT bureaucracy, see what they can do, and then (while trying to not to ostrichsize them) try to get as much media attention as possible so that MIT can make a good-will announcement that they're giving him the rights.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by TomRK1089 (1270906)
      The word you're looking for is "ostracize," not "ostrichsize." Though turning university bureaucrats into ostriches would be highly amusing.
  • by dtmos (447842) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:00AM (#26319163)

    Let's keep a few things in mind:

    1. This was "a technology he created as an intern at NASA in the summer of 2007 [nytimes.com]." It's not like he was an undergraduate sitting in a classroom -- he was working for NASA when he made the invention.

    2. "The iShoe researchers used some of their own work and previous NASA data [usatoday.com]," the latter presumably taken with "an expensive device about the size of a phone booth" in the creation of their invention. So NASA's data (and presumably equipment) were needed to produce the invention.

    3. While an intern, Lieberman was also a federally-funded (i.e., taxpayer-supported) graduate student, receiving money from both the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense [mit.edu], through his university, for his research. Like many (perhaps substantially all) graduate researchers in US universities, he was being paid by his university to do research. The fact that the research was being conducted at NASA doesn't change the fact that Lieberman was on the university payroll at the time the invention was made. Welcome to internships.

    4. His company has also filed for federal funding [usatoday.com] to develop the idea for market and, "[o]nce funding is obtained, the iShoe could be for sale in 18 months, Lieberman said." So he's still using taxpayer money to develop the invention for market.

    5. We don't know what the "hefty royalty" is (unless I missed it, it's not in any of the linked articles), but $75,000 is peanuts. "The iShoe has a way to go to reach the market [...] Lieberman estimates $1 million is needed for a broad clinical trial, and $3 million to $4 million [usatoday.com] to bring the insole to market." As a startup, his monthly burn rate will be much more than $75,000.

    Frankly, I'm fine with institutions receiving a financial return on the work of their paid employees -- especially if taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill. In fact, I would argue that Mr. Lieberman is getting a sweetheart deal; I think once he gets into industry himself he'll find that the commercial sector typically requires employees to assign all rights to any future inventions (at least, in the company's field of interest) to their employer starting on Day 1, usually with trivial or no compensation.

    It will be interesting to see what intellectual property policy the new iShoe company establishes for its own employees. As CEO [ishoeinsole.com], will Lieberman let his iShoe researchers invent and patent without expecting that those inventions will belong to iShoe?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skinkie (815924)
      So if "taxpayer-supported" then why isn't the invention public domain now? Getting seniors cheap iShoes without royalties?
  • by salesgeek (263995) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:09AM (#26319473) Homepage

    1. NEVER EVER SHARE AN ORIGINAL IDEA IN CLASS OR IN A PAPER

    It will be patented, copyrighted and sold by the university. Additionally, you will never be able to use it again without paying.

    2. NEVER EVER USE UNIVERSITY COMPUTERS FOR DEVELOPING A BUSINESS

    If you are successful, one day the University will come looking to extort money from you because they have one email where you outlined the idea.

    3. USE YOUR OWN COMPUTERS AND BRING YOUR OWN NETWORK.

    Don't use the University's high speed. For lots of reasons. Starting with the ease with which universities will give third parties like the RIAA information. Moving on to intellectual property rights. Moving on to using your activities against you in academic disputes. You just can't trust them, and the only way to be sure you own your work is to own the computer and network. In other words, get a 3G card.

  • Right. Just like this.
  • It is a sad day when our universities have slipped to an all new low. We pay lots of money for our education and now the very bastian of free thinking and free ideas does such underhanded things as patent someone else's work. Never mind that it might be legal, it certainly is unethical and immoral. The only way this would be remotely ethical is if the student was well compensated for his work. I'll go out on a limb and say most are not "well-compensated." If universities behave like this, I guess that
  • ...find companies such as MS behind universities going this direction.
    The who gets first crack at profiting from research done at universities.
    In exchange the companies sponsor such programs.

    Here is an example [cmu.edu]

    Note that it is abusive and contradicts the whole purpose of the patent system. Patents are intended, as is copyrights, to provide incentive for the creators of the works via granting a limited monopoly so to profit from their works, to do such works.

    Additionally software is not of patentable such matt

  • by timholman (71886) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @10:43AM (#26319911)

    At my university, the administration makes it very clear that any IP rights for student inventions due to a classroom assignment belong to the student. A purely academic "student", by definition, is not an employee of the university.

    A graduate research assistant is another matter entirely. A GRA is an employee of the university, paid by the university, and subject to the same IP regulations as the faculty and staff. In that respect my university is, in my opinion, extremely generous compared to private companies, as it allows faculty to have joint ownership of the IP, to develop as they see fit as long as the university receives a reasonable royalty. Considering the millions of dollars worth of capital equipment the university has placed at my disposal, I consider that quite a bargain.

    Mr. Leiberman will never get a better deal for an idea he developed on someone else's dime for as long as he lives. If he can't afford the $75K upfront fee, he should talk to the MIT IP lawyers and see if he can negotiate a reduction in return for a slightly higher royalty rate. He might be surprised how willing they are to work with him.

  • by Coppit (2441) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:03AM (#26319997) Homepage

    The thing that really gets me is that universities also patent work that is supported with public funds. So you pay your taxes, the government gives a chunk to the NSF, the NSF gives you a grant, you invent something with that money, then the university lays claim on it. That invention rightfully belongs to the public. I guess the feds allow this under the mistaken belief that "without a patent no innovation would happen".

    When I wrote grants to the NSF, I always put a clause in there that said I would release all software I develop for the grant under an open source license in order to share the discovery. It happened that I worked at William and Mary which had a pretty reasonable approach to IP, but places like the University of Virginia have patent foundations and scholars have an obligation to disclose patentable discoveries. I would have loved to see a judge untangle the knot of IP that was developed under the promise of open source distribution versus the claim the university makes on it.

  • by WCMI92 (592436) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:14PM (#26322767) Homepage

    With universities demanding more and more in tuition and tax funding, any IP that they obtain or create should be public domain just as with anything the government creates.

    Patenting student ideas and then profiting off them is wrong. At most, a university should get a royalty free license IF the student patents one of his or her own ideas.

    All this is going to do is encourage brilliant students to CONCEAL any marketable ideas they come up with while in school and thus is actually counter productive. I know that if I were in the same situation, I'd keep such an idea to myself and then "discover" it after I graduated.

    No public funding for universities that register patents for profit instead of public domain. Let them choose one or the other.

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