This blog presents alternatives to the prevailing university ideology of invention. For the past 20 years or so, I have worked in research enterprise–technology transfer, intellectual property management, research administration, corporate relations, economic development, public policy, new ventures, and innovation.
Much of my work has been at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. I have also consulted with a number of universities and companies, and continue to do so. From July 2008 to September 2011 I was supported by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, with matching funds from the University of Washington. That’s where Research Enterprise got its start. Research Enterprise, however, does not represent the positions or opinions of any of my sponsors or employers.
This blog has posted over 1,100 articles since 2008. From time to time, I make a proof-reading pass and clean up an article. If there’s a substantive change, I generally add an annotation to show the change. I make an effort to document my points with citations and links. Sometimes the text gets technical. But where else is anyone going to find a technical markup? Surely not in the academic literature. For any assertions I make, check for yourself. See what holds up.
University IP administration is populated with many good-hearted people and plagued by awful policies and practices. I have worked the entrepreneurial backside of university licensing deals and am dismayed by what I find in communications, in negotiations, in license drafting, in knowledge of IP, in representation of university policy. I have also worked through many university IP policies–perhaps 200, counting multiple versions of these policies over time. I have over 100 pages of annotations to these policies. As well, I have worked through scores of university licensing office web sites in some detail. I continue to work with universities that choose to make a difference–and are willing to work against the status quo to do that.
What should happen, if so much of what passes for university IP management is a rickety mess? That’s the challenge. At Research Enterprise, the answers lie in the direction of freedom over institutional control, catallaxy over economy, clarity over murkiness, and diversity over monoculture, moral compass over administrative requirements, transparency over spin. Perhaps the best university IP policy is not to have one. Next best is one that authorizes the use of institutional resources in support of dissemination of discovery and collaboration without demanding ownership. Down the chain, third best is to provide a uniform practice for faculty and others that choose to place their IP with their university for management. These policies need not be complicated, lengthy, or draconic. Innovation is challenging enough. Burdening a promising idea with bureaucracy does not improve its chances of catching on.
The best role for a university administration in IP management is that of trustee, of mediator, of guardian of the academic environment and the public interest. Institutional self-interest in making money from patent positions runs against such a role, against public interest, against the strengths of a university as a social institution. Optimizing policy for that self-interest against the interests of faculty and students, industry, and the broader public is yet again worse.
History points out that universities do not have to demand ownership of inventions to support public access to discovery, industry investment in inventions, or broad use of ideas that stimulate creative thinking most everywhere. There will be jobs for those who have the skills to assist in making connections, assessing IP portfolios, constructing deals, and taking care of relationships. Research Enterprise, though it grumbles at times, is committed to an optimistic view of the future. There is work to do, progress to be made, new things to discover. Clear the clutter and let people get on with it.