Universities may not own ideas yet, as I quipped in a recent post, but take a look at this bit of policy from the University of Washington, one of the country’s leaders in messed up IP policy:
Where an employee, whether full-time or less than full-time, desires to utilize the expertise and/or technology he or she has developed and to assist a business venture (i.e., corporation, partnership, or other commercial enterprise) in the commercialization of an idea, the employee and his or her supervisor should first seek the early assistance and counsel of UW TechTransfer to aid the employee in distinguishing those things which may be freely shared (e.g., “general expertise”) from those the sharing of which may be restricted (e.g., “technology” or other “intellectual property”).
The University here implies that it has the power to restrict faculty ideas, expertise, and “technology” and to prevent faculty from assisting companies. There is no mention of the faculty doing the assistance for compensation or as part of “deeper involvement” (such as taking a management position). Where does the state, let alone a public university, get such powers? There is no trade secret or non-compete covenants, and last I heard universities encouraged publication. It appears “conflict of interest” now means “suppression of public service” and “all your ideas are belong to us”.
In essence, the University is trying to use conflict of interest policy (and by extension, state ethics law) to create a quasi ownership position in not only research results but the expertise and ideas of faculty. Rules that say, don’t exploit your public position for private gain now mean, you cannot do anything that would limit our ability to exploit your personal knowledge for institutional gain. It’s a fine line, isn’t it?
That is some monster organizational conflict of interest the University of Washington has. There ought to be some ointment or something to put on it to ease the swelling.