AAUP Launches Intellectual Property Campaign

By Ezra Deutsch-Feldman

Tensions over faculty control of the fruits of scholarship have been slowly building since the 1980s, but they have become particularly intense over the past two years. The most troubling changes have occurred in university patent policies, with major research universities leading the way in limiting or eliminating faculty members’ traditional rights to decide what happens to their discoveries or inventions. With the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and other forms of online education, universities have also started to assert ownership of the copyright to courses created by professors. The AAUP is leading a national campaign to publicize these issues and the resources available for faculty.

In October, a subcommittee of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure issued a draft Statement on Intellectual Property, which is now open to public comment. The subcommittee also issued a draft report, Defending the Freedom to Innovate: Faculty Intellectual Property (IP) Rights after Stanford v. Roche, for comment. The report’s title refers to a 2011 US Supreme Court decision affirming that faculty members own the patents to their inventions. The AAUP filed a successful amicus brief in that case. While the court’s decision repudiated universities that had claimed unilateral ownership of faculty patents, many leading research institutions responded simply by requiring faculty to sign over all of their patent rights as a condition of their employment.

In response to these drastic assertions of IP ownership, the AAUP has created an online “Education and Action Toolkit” to help faculty members understand their intellectual property rights. The AAUP asserts that faculty members are the sole owners of patents and of the copyright to the intellectual property they create. Universities can license that intellectual property as needed—they do not need to assert control of it.

The text of the draft statement and report, along with the other materials in the toolkit, are available at http://www.aaup.org/get-involved/issue-campaigns/intellectual-property-risk.

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