University of Utah’s Mount Stupid Disclosure Claim, 1

Here is a bit from the University of Utah’s web site. The general topic is final invention reporting for grant close out. Here’s the statement of interest (bold in the original, links removed):

All University employees are responsible to disclose all intellectual property that could constitute inventions or copyrighted works to Technology & Venture Commercialization (TVC). Beginning July 1, 2013, this is done through the Inventor Portal. Log-in or apply for an account here.

Invention disclosure is critically important for all projects, especially where any portion of the funding comes from the federal government, private foundation, or commercial sponsor. Federal law requires prompt disclosure and the University, investigators, and involved companies could lose very significant rights if disclosures are not promptly made.

The first paragraph is just plain silly. “All intellectual property” is general-sounding and therefore to an administrator sounds comprehensive. But put it into its grammatical context and we get “all intellectual property that could constitute copyrighted works.” Much goofiness. A work is not “copyrighted”–copyright vests in original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. And in any case, if a work were “copyrighted,” then it obviously does constitute something that could constitute copyrighted work–it could not be a matter of “could.” But that’s just the start of the stupid. Copyright vests in every email. Every research note. Every slide presentation. Every poster session. Every data set in which an original selection and arrangement of the items has taken place. Every draft article. The Utah policy demands that every one of these things–we are talking millions of instances per year–must be disclosed to the Utah commercialization office. Mount stupid! Er, sorry. The snark settings sometime slip when stuff is this awful. No doubt there will be more problems with snark as we go.

This demand is a typical administrative power play. Demand more than people can possibly comply with, and then waive the requirement for everything and everyone until someone crosses you, and then pounce on them with fury for non-compliance. Police states operate this way–everyone is a criminal, but for the grace of those in power. Religious power at times may exploit the same idea. It is not strange, therefore, to see the method show up in university policies that aim to create or preserve power for administrators.

Before we leave fishing this first paragraph for the deeper pool of the second paragraph, consider one further point. All these possible (“could constitute”) “inventions or copyrighted works” must be reported to a “commercialization” office, Technology & Venture Commercialization. The clear implication is that the university’s purpose in claiming intellectual property is to attempt to “commercialize” it through licensing (that’s the primary import) and startups (“ventures”). Or, as Utah’s “Guide” for inventors puts it:

Technology commercialization is the movement of knowledge and discoveries from the university environment to the general public. This can occur through publications, educated students entering the workforce, exchanges at conferences and relationships with industry. For the purposes of this guide, however, technology commercialization refers to the formal licensing of technology to third parties and the organization of new technology-based companies for the benefit of the community, the state and the world.

Yup. Sell technology and startups.

A small problem, then, with the name of the unit–it appears that the unit commercializes both technology and ventures. Either that’s a weird use of the idea of commercialization (always possible at Utah) or it’s a stranger still idea about what one does with a venture. How does one commercialize a venture? Turn publicly spirited efforts into packages to be sold? “Hey, you can’t just help people that way–you must report what you are doing to us, so we can try to sell your activity as a startup to wealthy investors!”

And this points out the huge sucking sound that envelops all of University of Utah scholarly activity as a matter of university policy: everything–everything that could possibly be an invention or “copyrighted work” is dedicated to an institutional effort to be packaged as intellectual property owned by the university and offered for sale–by license or by license embedded in a startup. The entirety of the university’s research enterprise is therefore dedicated to (or condemned, as you wish) to the purpose of selling off intellectual property assets under the general rubric of “commercialization.” Turn university research activity and instructional activity and public service activity into objects to be sold. And this is set up to be a matter of virtue, of public benefit.

The Technology & Ventures Commercialization web site is a chameleon–one must choose a version of the site based on selecting a “landing page.” So faculty don’t see the same thing as “industry representatives.” And once you have chosen a “landing page,” you  have to delete TVC’s cookie in your browser to see what’s presented to others. And, of course, there is no “landing page” for the general public, nor of course for “auditors”! Here’s what TVC has to say on the “industry representative” page, after a garish video (bold supplied):

The Commercialization Engine is a value-adding, vetting and de-risking process through which all university inventions pass after disclosure to TVC. Its goal is to take early-stage invention disclosures and technologies through a process of derisking and transform them into life-changing and productive applications. This is accomplished by thoroughly understanding inventions, finding their value, determining their market fit, acting on feedback from potential customers, protecting IP, creating a strong business model, identifying milestones, and executing an acceleration plan.

First, we have a confirmation that all inventions must pass into the “derisking” process (or is it de-risking–the paragraph can’t decide) of the “Commercialization Engine.” It sounds like something right out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Oh, gawd, no, not The Commercialization Enging! Not the derisking process!” And of course, in the course of derisking, inventions emerge as “life-changing and productive.” That’s because university faculty cannot create anything that doesn’t involve risk (which must be husked) or is life-changing–no, life-changing stuff is for The Commercialization Engine, not for, say instruction or publication or assistance. Arrogant prigs.

The derisking and life-changing emergence (wrapped up with a “This” that doesn’t point to anything in particular, so we shall assume) comes about by means of a string of administrative abstractions, ending with the happy double entendre of “executing” an “acceleration plan.” Nothing finer than killing a plan against the wall of bureaucracy. Or perhaps it is better to think of it as a ritual sacrifice, in the Aztec tradition, in which the life-changing aspect involves the removal of an invention’s heart. That will surely alter life! As it is, in its overt meaning, “executing an acceleration plan” apparently means that bureaucrats act on something they have sketched out and labeled “acceleration plan”–because, apparently, once you have The Commercialization Engine at your command, you have to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate. There’s no getting around it. To go from zero to something will involve an acceleration. F=ma and all that. In a sweet twist, given that acceleration is a vector with magnitude and direction, the TVC folks never commit to going in a useful direction when they stomp on the gas, just as “life-changing” does not necessarily involve the continuation of life for each invention that must pass through this horror of university policy.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this article tomorrow.

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