Intellectual Property and Copyright

Intellectual property (IP) at colleges and universities refers most importantly to the products of faculty, staff, and student research and scholarship. IP falls into two groups—work covered by patent law and work covered by copyright law. Both categories have undergone significant change over the last generation. In response, university policies have either evolved or been radically revised. 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.

Many campus copyright policies remain good, but they are being undermined by the online course revolution, including the wave of interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs), since many institutions have sought to deny faculty members their traditional rights to the instructional materials they author. Campus patent policies, however, have taken a radical turn for the worse, with a number of campuses revising them to mandate automatic institutional ownership of the fruits of scholarly work. We provide recommended language both for patent and online instruction policies.

The AAUP believes it is appropriate to issue a warning: Your intellectual property is in danger. In trying to reassert the principles inherent in the US Constitution, two centuries of patent law, and a landmark 2011 US Supreme Court decision, the first task is educational. Everyone on campus needs to learn more about the law, the issues at stake, and the rights they can assert through collective action. This AAUP IP web section has been assembled to help you with the information you need to participate in informed discussion and organize for better campus policies.

The main sections are: