Board of Regents reviews I.P. policy

The regents hope to clarify their policy on intellectual property at the University.

by Ahnalese Rushmann

The Board of Regents addressed changes that would narrow University intellectual property and copyright policies at its Educational Planning & Policy Committee meeting Thursday.

Under one suggestion, the University would own all intellectual property created by undergraduates when they use “substantial University resources.”

University general counsel Mark Rotenberg said this doesn’t apply to students’ general work.

“Coursework that students produce and that faculty prepare are owned by the individuals,” he said. “Students do not need to fear that the experiment they carry out or the paper they write for a class is suddenly owned by the regents.”

Rotenberg said clarification of existing policies will help avoid future complications with ownership rights of University technologies and works.

“I wouldn’t say there have been disputes,” he said, “but uncertainties have risen because the old policy wasn’t clear on who owns what and under what circumstances.”

Increased research opportunities at the University prompted this change, Rotenberg said.

“This step’s a new foundation for launching increased research opportunities for everyone at the University,” he said.

Rotenberg said existing University policy does a fair job of compensating inventors.

“The University policy currently and in the new policy has a provision in it for sharing one-third of the net revenue with the inventor,” Rotenberg said.

He said the University’s terms are much more generous than those at a corporation like 3M or Medtronic.

Medtronic spokesman Chuck Grothaus said the corporation is not on a revenue-sharing model, something fairly standard in the corporate world.

Inventors receive small nominal fees that typically amount to around $1,000, but said they have internal awards and recognitions, he said.

“It’s a noticeable thing if someone’s getting 15 patents filed,” he said. “It becomes more of an internal status symbol to get those milestones.”

University of Wisconsin spokesman Terry Devitt said he wasn’t aware of any recent changes to the school’s policies.

“My understanding is that Wisconsin is unique,” he said. “If (faculty or staff) have an opportunity for a patent or copyright, that can accrue to them personally.”

Devitt said obtaining a patent is a difficult process, but the majority of people who get one do so through the school’s Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The foundation manages the patents and licenses the technologies, he said, with about 10 percent to 20 percent of licensing fees each going to the inventor and the inventor’s University department, Devitt said, as opposed to the 33 percent allocated to the inventor at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s certainly the oldest university Intellectual Property program of its kind and has been a model for lots of other institutions,” he said.

“It’s one of the things that’s really helped keep Wisconsin competitive.”

Dr. Warren Warwick, professor of pediatrics, said the University properly recognizes faculty and student inventors.

“The University’s gotten much better,” he said.

Warwick, who specializes in cystic fibrosis research, said he obtained patents without the University’s help before when the school passed on the opportunities.

He said he’ll continue doing research and trying to obtain patents through the University.

Rotenberg said University policy adjustments will work well for determining who owns what creative work and technology.

“This step’s a new foundation for launching increased research opportunities for everyone at the University,” he said.