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Universities Patenting More Student Ideas 383

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) Homepage Journal

    The stupid exploit the smart.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:50AM (#26318621) Homepage

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:51AM (#26318629)

    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.

  • Re:Non-profit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @05:54AM (#26318645)

    I think a better idea might be to force federally-funded schools to do something similar to that. If the government is giving a researcher/professor/whatever a grant from taxes based on his or her past accomplishments, the university gets a huge chunk of it - unless I'm mistaken (and I very well could be.) For the university to then get whatever comes out of that is fundamentally stupid. From my experience, the university does nothing besides initially invest in the researchers. Well, that's not exactly true, they give me parking tickets occasionally too. I should say I'm a grad student, so I'm somewhat talking out of my ass here, and I might be biased (parking tickets!!!) but from what I can tell, the university gets more than their fair share.

  • 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:3, Insightful)

    by TheTurtlesMoves ( 1442727 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:10AM (#26318727)
    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.
  • 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
  • by eobet ( 959982 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:39AM (#26318835) Homepage

    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 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 zenyu ( 248067 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:48AM (#26318865)

    I don't know how it is now, but when I went to NYU for my Ph.D. studies there was nothing like this you had to sign. You retained copyright to anything you did, just like professors and tuition paying students did. It was University policy that they owned any patents they filed for on your behalf, but you would get 50% of the royalties. There was very little pressure to apply for patents on your inventions, those who took the University up on it's offer were dreaming of the royalties. Those who didn't were generally the pulled-up-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps sort who felt that patenting their ideas was an ignoble act after their run of good luck in getting where they were (it takes more than just smarts).

    I highly doubt MIT coerced this former graduate student into patenting his invention. He probably just got greedy and now the university is seeking a little cost recovery. The issues concerning whether it when it is good idea to patent your inventions have been well understood among engineering and science graduate students for about a decade now, so I'm fairly confident that he was well aware of them.

  • 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:Great (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:00AM (#26318919)

    Usually you don't pay a company to work in it.

  • 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:Exploitation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:43AM (#26319097) Homepage

    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.

  • by Zey ( 592528 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:56AM (#26319147)

    It was University policy that they owned any patents they filed for on your behalf, but you would get 50% of the royalties.

    Given the cost of registering then protecting your patent in the courts would be prohibitive to all and near impossible for most ordinary salary earners (let alone students on their student grants!), that's actually quite a sound deal they're offering.

  • 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:Exploitation (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:07AM (#26319189)

    Tuition and FEES... Hrm, I wonder what fees cover? I pay: Lab, Facilities maintenence, Facility expansion, International, IT, Paper, Administrative, Student Services, and Student Life. And a surcharge to cover the administration of the various fees. This is on top of tuition that is supposed to pay the PhDs.

  • Re:Non-profit? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:53AM (#26319393)

    This is so awesome.

    In the past ppl got to patent their ideas.

    Now it is part of the Corporate Government that can seize
    any hopes young ppl now have of making it in this world.

    You pay for the education, and if you do something brilliant
    with what you paid for in full, they take it from you.

    The Parasitic United States of America has been born.

  • Re:Great (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:00AM (#26319425)

    No, you just do like every other student, and make your project boring and unrelevant, keeping all the ideas which are really good to yourself.

    Most courses won't give you loads of marks for something that's really great and useful, it's all about how you apply yourself, your skills, and analysis to the project.

  • 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: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 salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:09AM (#26319473) Homepage


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


    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.


    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.

  • by Skinkie ( 815924 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:13AM (#26319479) Homepage
    So if "taxpayer-supported" then why isn't the invention public domain now? Getting seniors cheap iShoes without royalties?
  • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @09:22AM (#26319519)

    "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, the very function, adding high price to new and theoretically better products slows down adoption and spread of those products, when the best economic advantage would be derived if adoption of new products was maximized (green tech, medical tech, etc) and the older less efficient tech was deprecated. Reducing use rate may be appropriate for some forms of taxes, such as those on cigarettes or alcohol, but it's hardly good for inventions.

    Basically, the only productive way to consider the usefulness and efficiency of IP is to frame the concept as a taxation form, and then discuss it from that point. And it usually doesn't take long to figure out it's a very badly implemented one.

  • 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.

  • Re:Exploitation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sparky McGruff ( 747313 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @10:17AM (#26319769)
    That might be reasonable, if the Ph.D. student does not receive a stipend (paid for by Fed dollars or off of research grants), and only works in student labs (not in a grant funded research lab). If a student comes up with an idea in Physics 101, or while working out in the student gym, your idea would hold. If he or she is working in a research institute, I guarantee that those tuition and fee dollars are not funding their work.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:23AM (#26320111)

    Keep in mind that in many universities graduate students *are* employees. At least, this was the argument made by the unionization efforts that have resulted in graduate student unions.

    And unions aside, many graduate students - especially at the doctoral candidate level - are paid a stipend by the university rather than paying the university.

    So really, there's nothing wrong with universities patenting the work of student employees as well as faculty or any other sort of employee using their facilities.

  • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:29AM (#26320139) Journal
    Hell, our professors *warned* us about it. They specifically said if we wrote code or invented anything using so much as the floor of a university building, they university owned it, so if we had a good idea 1) don't tell them 2) don't use a public university computer 3) don't use it for a damn class project
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @11:56AM (#26320321)

    Much (in some cases most) of the people working for a university are administrators and staff. Staff for the most part are pretty good, but administrators (who make this kind of rule) are pretty stupid indeed (often having degrees in such intellectual fields as "bureaucracy" and "paperwork generation". Of course, recognizing this, they're usually paid quite well - in some universities you can recognize the admin buildings by the quality and newness of the cars parked nearby.

  • Re:Non-profit? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:01PM (#26320357)

    Or, pick a school with a better policy. Carnegie Mellon doesn't own anything developed by students. That's because it is not considered a work for hire, and even for grad students a stipend is not pay for work, but for teaching assistantships etc. However, if you work over the summer as an intern for pay, are staff, or even a post-doc, then everything you create is a work for hire. One thing I wrote during the summer where I was partially funded by a DARPA grant, I wrote some very useful but simple stuff, but it took almost 2 years to get an ok to get ownership of it. I ended up rewriting it during the semester to get untainted code.

    More people should be aware of the IP policies of the schools they would like to attend. Software ownership played into my decision of what graduate schools to go to (I was also accepted at MIT). While I haven't commercialized any of the ideas I came up with, I own all the software I wrote as a student and grad student, and can use it in a commercial venture in the future if I would like to. Some of the things I wrote were certainly patentable too, especially given the low bar for such patents these days.

    OTOH, Carnegie Mellon has a much lower endowment than MIT or Stanford, so IP policies allowing schools to own ideas and code may be better for the schools. In the long run, that means they will probably all follow suit. In fact, Carnegie may have changed their policy since I left in '06, so it's probably best to check ahead of time for any schools you are interested in.

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> 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."

  • This is why.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:24PM (#26320505)

    In theory, patents are not so bad. They are a good way to encourage companies to invest time and money in research that costs a lot of money.

    Farmaceuticals is a good example. In that field it takes more than a 'moment of briliance' to come up with a new drug. It takes years of hard work, lots of resources and tests and therefor a large investment to come up with a great new drug. Being able to patent such work will allow the company to reap the benefits of their labor, share the outcome with the world and move on into the next R&D project.

    Things are different in the software world. I can think of a new algorithm tonight, without any effort or any risk of failure. So can you. If it's new and revolutionary, then great!

    But why should the rest of the world be prevented from using 'your' idea, just because you thought of it first? I can think of it next without even knowing you exist. Why should I be prevented from using my own brain? That's what is wrong with software patents, the fact that thoughts and ideas are being claimed when everyone has a brain designed to produced them. There is no benefit to society. That's why software patents are bad.

    But again, patents per se are not a bad thing, as long as they are applied to a field where it takes a real effort to invent something.

  • by kramerd ( 1227006 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:32PM (#26320559)

    Responding because modding you down wont have the correct effect (too many idiots think you are insightful).

    Not in the least bit possible.

    R&D is ALWAYS a direct expense, not an asset. R&D is done with the hope that something will come out of it, but hope is not an asset. Since there is no reasonable basis to assume that IP with value can come from R&D, it is by definition an expense.

    If investors see R&D as a profit center, they dont know how to invest.

    This is much like how a shovel and pick do not discover or create minerals. R&D can help create/discover minerals, and once they are found, a shovel and pick can be used to deplete the mineral source that has already been obtained.

    The only way that IP is treated as an asset is when the actual value of the patent can be determined (patent #74839274982349 gives us the right to be the only company that uses method x, which from an actuarial calculation has a value of y). Y is amortized over the useful life of the patent. Once ammortized, the Intangible Asset no longer creates value. In fact, the value of an Intangible asset is more to attract top R&D talent, rather than to create long term value for a company.

    Its not like eating your seed corn to lock away knowledge; rather its like developing a new plant from seed corn and not letting anyone else grow it until you bring a product to market that no one else has. You then get the marketing bump from being first and can charge a higher price than the knockoffs that inevitably come (who will have to reverse engineer the plant and determine its uses, that you have already to paid to create). This is reasonable since you took the risk of putting all that money into R&D and eventually came up with something useful.

  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:47PM (#26320681) Journal

    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."

  • 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 []: 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.

  • Re:Exploitation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @04:56PM (#26322615)

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

    Exactly right! When I worked as a programmer, I developed many small tools (mostly scripts) that were quite useful. After showing some of these to some other programmers, word got to my bosses, who immediately decided that I should "document" them and "add error processing" for the fucking morons who didn't have the ambition to read and interpret a ten-line script. The scripts were generally so obvious that adding error checking and messages would have quintupled the size in most cases. If a script was not able to find a file, the average programmer should be able to determine the problem was either a spelling error or that the file was not where they assumed it was. But that was never enough for the fucking management control freaks. They wanted a polite error message to lead the single-digit IQs to the right answer.

    It's for people like them that a simple "404 - file not found" has to be expanded into a full-page explanation of the possibility of misspelling, site owners having renamed, moved or deleted a file, along with instructions on how to contact the author of a broken link to appeal for a correction.

    So I just said, "Fuck that" and rarely afterward passed on anything of any great usefulness. I did my work easily and let the rest slog through as well as they could. I don't like someone taking possession of or using my work while taking my effort for granted.

  • Re:Great (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:18PM (#26323275) Homepage Journal

    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 local governments and for-profit corporations and this is not only hurting students and their education, it's holding back a lot of research and technological progress.

    I firmly believe that any research and ideas generated at a publicly-funded educational institution should automatically be placed in the public domain so that everybody wins. The students get recognition for their work and can use their academic success to find a job (or start a company) in their chosen field. For-profit corporations can use the research freely to benefit their own bottom line without having to worry about stepping on the university's patents or trade secrets. Independent researchers and self-learners have unfettered access to the research to further their own goals. It's rather like the open source model applied to scientific research.

  • Re:Non-profit? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eggnoglatte ( 1047660 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @06:50PM (#26323541)

    The whole argument as well as the article are completely ass-backwards. The real news should be

    Universities Generate >45B in Economic Value

    The key here is that the reason they made 45B is that it was worth at least that to somebody else who paid for it and now produces goods or services that are directly contributing to the economy.

    The alternative is that most research just gets published as a research article, and then vanishes in some drawer and a handful of university libraries. That is why Bah-Doyle and similar acts in other countries were introduced, so that there is an experienced party that can screen research output for valuable inventions and make sure those feed back into the economy. The problem is often not a lack of good ideas, but the willingness and aptitude of the researchers to take them commercial.

    Also, you and the article make it sound as if the university just takes the money and runs. That is not the case. First, the universities share the revenues with the inventors. Second, they do something for their share. The extent of support varies from institution to institution, but at a minimum they provide valuable seed funding for patents etc., without which you can't realistically even get private funding in many areas.

    Many universities (such as the one I am at), do a lot more: they provide infrastructure to startups, or help find experienced people for posts such as CFO. And having an experienced CFO does wonders for the startup's ability to raise funding, so the university share tends to easily pay for itself.

  • by visible.frylock ( 965768 ) on Monday January 05, 2009 @01:03AM (#26326333) Homepage Journal

    Maybe, but I'd say that large businesses like IP because it gives more influence to larger incumbents and allows them to shut out smaller competition, at least in the aggregate.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson