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The Next Target - Students!

Universities have become much more aggressive about seeking profits from inventions made by everyone from respected and experienced faculty researchers to undergraduate students working on class projects.


Recently in the New York Times, Samantha Stainburn recounts the story of Peter Zummo and Matthew Naples, a pair of undergrads at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) who designed a water bottle that can be filled with sand and used to construct housing in developing nations.


The two were surprised when RPI’s technology transfer office began inquiring about their invention, which serves the dual goals of recycling plastic water bottles and providing green construction materials for people living in poverty.


Though RPI eventually decided Zummo and Naples owned the rights to their design, the Times report cautions that inventors often are ill-prepared to handle the business end of the breakthroughs they make in the lab or classroom.


"With entrepreneurship booming, especially in courses that mix M.B.A. candidates with budding physicians or engineers, more and younger students are coming up with ideas that have commercial potential. While formal programs offer classes in managing intellectual property, plenty of students develop their ideas with little knowledge of how ownership is determined or the pros and cons of involving the university," Stainburn wrote.


The issue was thrust to the fore in 1980, when the Bayh-Dole Act gave universities ownership interest in intellectual property developed on campuses using federal funds. Before Bayh-Dole, universities obtained fewer than 250 patents a year. Today they obtain 3,000 per year.


Stainburn quoted Peter Corless, a partner at the law firm Edwards, Angell, Palmer and Dodge in Boston, who said that while universities may try to help researchers, "their first allegiance is to do something for the university."


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Comments : 7 - Last Post : Sep 4, 2011 7:24 PM by: Kathy
re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by rowan32: Feb 20, 2009 2:15 PM

It would never have occured to me that students would even be a part of the patent system of a university. I hope more people learn and understand this. It just doesn't even seem reasonable.

re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by clarkb: Feb 20, 2009 2:31 PM

Wow - I have been working on my thesis for awhile and never even thought about this. This article really nailed it!!!

re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by tregan: Feb 21, 2009 12:00 PM

When I read this, the content was disturbing, but when you combine it with some of the other posts about UGA, I have to say that I'm glad I'm pursuing my MBA at Emory instead of UGA... If they are willing to go after a professor, what would UGA do to a student?

re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by twilson: Feb 27, 2009 7:57 AM

Students have no real contractual agreement with a University, or do they?  Is there some sort of agreement hidden in admissions documentation that I am not aware of? 

re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by ipadvocate: Mar 23, 2009 6:13 PM

It may not be "hidden" per se, but may not be widely publicized. It is advisable that every student and researcher understand the intellectual property policies of their university. You always want to know your rights and should not sign any form that you do not understand. Intellectual property laws, including patent and copyright laws, are very complex. Also, if you are studying in the sciences, arts or technology, IP laws and policies should be of particular concern to you and should be considered as part of the college selection process to ensure you do not end up creating intellectual property under terms you do not find acceptable.

re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by Kathy: Sep 4, 2011 7:21 PM

Inventors are theatened with smear campaigns if Facebook were to prevail on appeal in this case:




re: The Next Target - Students!
Posted by Kathy: Sep 4, 2011 7:24 PM

Inventors are theatened with smear campaigns if Facebook were to prevail on appeal in this case:




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