As part of my duties as IU’s assistant vice president for federal relations, I have spent the past few months serving on a new task force formed by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. It focused on innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, with the specific purpose of examining various policies and values that universities use to manage intellectual property.
As a result of those efforts – as well as a similar undertaking by the Association of American Universities (AAU) – a set of recommendations emerged that universities can follow to make sure that such institutions: a). Continue to focus on their primary missions of education, research and public service; b). Make sure such efforts are readily transparent to the public, policymakers and potential university partners.
- The primary focus of university technology transfer efforts should be to advance the public interest and public good. Both groups recommend that institutions underscore this purpose by developing a clear mission or purpose statement for the management of intellectual property, in accordance with the first recommendation of the National Research Council’s 2010 report, “Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest.”
- Universities should have high-level policies in place to ensure that intellectual property management and technology transfer practices align with both the public interest and their core research, education and service missions. Technology transfer practices must not conflict with these missions. Many universities already have high-level policies in place, which help ensure that they are managing intellectual property in the public interest. Our associations urge all of our universities to establish such policies and to make them clear and transparent.
- Universities should not deal with patent trolls. With respect to so-called “patent trolls,” many universities have policies in place restricting their dealing with such entities. Universities that do not already have such policies in place should establish them. Such policies need not negate the ability of universities to rightfully employ outside counsel or other organizations to legitimately enforce their intellectual property rights against infringement.
- Technology transfer operations should be evaluated and assessed by several means, not solely or even primarily revenue generation. Revenues generated from university management of intellectual property should be viewed as a positive outcome, providing resources that further advance research and education. However, the primary force driving technology transfer should be the transfer of knowledge and new discoveries from universities to the private sector and others to benefit the public.
- It is critical for universities to continue to share best practices for managing intellectual property and improving technology transfer operations in ways that serve the public interest. Effective practices especially include those that ensure the quick movement of new ideas and technologies generated with federal support from the laboratory to the marketplace.
University presidents and chancellors already are familiar with such counsel, which APLU initially announced in late March. But to reiterate, APLU recommends that member universities – if they have not already done so – take action to protect and preserve the principles that APLU and AAU have detailed in their respective reports. While universities generally act responsibly and appropriately, they have not always clearly defined the principles that guide such work or communicate them publicly.
Later this year, APLU’s task force will collect examples of innovative and effective practices in university intellectual property management and will publicize those examples later this year. In addition, both AAU and APLU plan to discuss these recommendations at upcoming meetings of their presidents and provosts.