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Universities across the country routinely rely on boilerplate patent agreements and other legal documents to control innovations discovered by the scientists they employ. While their stated goals are to promote continued research and innovation, the application of these policies could, over time, have the opposite effect.

Universities stipulate that all employees must sign standard intellectual property (IP) agreements which give the university ownership rights to their creative works. Many of these IP agreements also call for faculty to execute additional, yet unspecified, documents the university may require in the future. Mandating faculty researchers to sign documents they have never seen as a condition of continued employment contradicts employment law and disregards all of the duties of the university to protect and preserve the intellectual property interests of their faculty members.

While some university technology transfer offices are staffed with competent stewards of intellectual property, others may have less capable personnel.

In the case of Dr. Renee Kaswan, inventor of the billion-dollar drug Restasis® and a former research professor at the University of Georgia, contractual technicalities were used to strip away her equity in her life's work. "If my experience was an isolated case, it would matter only to me," Dr. Kaswan said. "However, an unfortunate secret about university technology transfer is that all big winners end up in court. And that can only end up stifling, rather than promoting, innovation."

In 1984, Dr. Kaswan signed a standard UGA Patent Agreement as required by her employment contract. The document established the university's interest in "any invention or discovery" she would make and said she must abide by the patent policy and its modifications that would be published "from time to time."


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