With a growing number of programs helping undergrads become more active in entrepreneurship and commercialization, issues surrounding student IP ownership have taken on increased importance. At the University of New Hampshire, tech transfer leaders have invested much time and effort in developing a systematic approach to the issue.
“We encourage these students to find all sorts of opportunities to conduct research at the university . . . along a continuum,” says Maria E. Emanuel, PhD, associate director for UNH Innovation and head of the Intellectual Asset Management unit. “It could be anywhere from a student designing their own independent study and seeking mentorship from a UNH faculty member or perhaps seeking mentorship from an external partner, to a student that’s involved with a faculty member’s grant-funded research and working in their laboratory.” Each year, she noted, about 1,800 undergraduates present their research at an annual conference.
With such a large number of student researchers, the need for a systematic approach was clear. Emanuel said that approach is comprised of three categories of tools:
- the IP policy;
- agreements to provide guidance and outline responsibility;
- “engagement” agreements (confidentiality, IP).
Under the university’s newly revised policy, “covered individuals” are defined as all members of the university community — faculty and staff and students, visiting scholars, and others who have a role or a place at the institution. “It can be funded or unfunded efforts, it could be externally funded, internally funded, and other variations,” added Emanuel. Fairness, she noted, was a prime concern.
Basically, a covered individual will own any IP that is created, with three exceptions:
- A) Any IP that is created while the individual is conducting their university duties for which they’re employed. “It could be for somebody who receives a salary, or wages, or stipends, or any grant funds,” Emanuel offered.
- B) Any IP that is created while an individual is making use of university resources. “This won’t apply to somebody who is using our library or even our network, but it’s more for scenarios like somebody who is using a laboratory or bench or instrumentation,” she explained.
- C) IP that involves legal or contractual restrictions on IP ownership. “We see it very frequently with sponsored research agreements, grants, contracts, material transfer agreements, and confidentiality agreements,” noted Emanuel.
There are also specific provisions for graduate students. While they generally fall under similar guidelines to those of other covered individuals, “we do clarify that in those situations where research is carried out in the university or making use of university resources during the course of employment, or part of their degree or postdoc program, the IP rights are owned by the university,” said Emanuel. In addition, she noted, if the IP is developed from work performed under a grant or sponsorship, or also undertaken with other covered individuals who have the duty to assign to the university, then the institution can take IP ownership rights. However, the university waives its ownership rights in favor of the creator, including students, of exempted scholarly works (i.e, dissertations, theses). “But we do retain a non-exclusive royalty-free right to use it for non-commercial purposes only,” she observed.
Undergraduates are treated equally under the policy, which was an important consideration in its development. “We also made sure in the policy that undergraduate students receive appropriate royalty distributions if they are an innovator who create IP that is assigned to the university,” Emanuel stated. “The value I see is we really feel that it supports and encourages this dynamic culture of research, which is one of the values we offer as part of our education.” “If an undergraduate works in a lab side by side with faculty and graduate students, you have to fairly recognize their contribution.”
What is not explicitly stated in the policy, she noted, but an outcome of what she described, is that “all work that is produced by a student for a class assignment remains the property of the student, unless any of the [policy exceptions] are invoked.” A detailed article on UNH’s IP policies and procedures appears in the February issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, as well as full access to the publication’s 10-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.
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