University instigated lawsuits filed against faculty researchers are rife with implications and accusations of impropriety, misuse and abuse of intellectual property, violations of IP policies and various state and federal laws. But are these researchers the scoundrels described in case filings?
Court verdicts and, oddly, university publicity machines do not bear out this thesis. More likely, they tend to be talented, tenured inventors with awards and recognitions for their valuable research. Before being cast as rogue scientists by university lawyers, the defendants in these cases were lauded by their universities. Trumpeted for their accomplishments, these valuable faculty scientists have been touted as credits to academia and contributors to social good.
But when these professors attempted to preserve their intellectual property rights, university attorneys turned on and denounced these valuable researchers. IPAdvocate.org has prepared case studies on major university versus researcher lawsuits and has made them available to the public to decide for itself.
Most recent is the headline-making case of Dr. Galen Suppes, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Missouri, who developed an efficient and environmentally friendly way to turn glycerin, a byproduct of the production of biodiesel fuel, into an inexpensive substitute for antifreeze.
Suppes received, among many other honors, the prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to being a frequently published and cited author in leading academic and engineering journals, Suppes has been recognized for Excellence in Teaching. As recently as May, 2009 the University of Missouri touted the success of his research, yet the legal dispute continues.
Renee Kaswan, a former professor at the University of Georgia and inventor of the breakthrough dry-eye drug Restasis®, received UGA's Inventor of the Year Award its Creative Research Medal. Rob Fincher, UGA director of technology commercialization, praised Kaswan's work in an article in the University of Georgia Research Magazine, saying "Dr. Kaswan has invented an important treatment... To my knowledge this will be the first prescription drug to go on the market that treats dry eye in people by allowing the tear ducts to produce tears." The awards were given by UGA, but her intellectual property rights were stripped away in a bitter court fight.
David Townsend and engineer Ronald Nutt developed a means to wed two medical imaging technologies, the PET and CT scanners, to provide doctors with a powerful new tool for diagnosing cancer and other diseases. The combined PET/CT scanner was named Time Magazine's Invention of the Year in 2000. Between the conception of the device and its clinical trials, Townsend was hired as a research professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Pitt's site once described Townsend as "an internationally known researcher who has advanced PET technology for more than a decade". Yet after he emerged victorious from the lawsuit Pitt initiated, Townsend's name has been stricken from the University's while the PET/CT innovation remains there as a credit to the school.
Until researchers are properly recognized for their accomplishments in both the long and short term and university lawsuits against faculty scientists are curbed, academic innovation and the public along with it will continue to suffer.