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Intellectual property disconnect in academia? May 12, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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I work for someone. They supply me with the lab space, equipment, reagents and other material to do experiments. They pay me to do the research. While doing this work, I think of modifications and improvements to the methods that make them better. I still do my assigned work, but do not tell my boss about my ideas nor do tell him about my experiments that prove those ideas. I leave that position and go to work for someone else or set up shop on my own to continue developing my ideas. They succeed greatly. The discoveries make a lot of money.

 OK, this scenario is a little generic on purpose to make a point. If this happened in an industrial setting, the first employer would sue me and the second employer, and most likely win because I based my discovery on their prior art, or used their facilities, or was an employee of their when the key event of conceptualization happened.

 If the setting were different, like in an academic lab setting, most people seem to think the ivory-tower image of intellectual freedom prevails. But if the former professor or university thinks they were legally ripped off, they would sue and most likely win, too. The law is still the law and intellectual property is not treated that differently in court cases if it is industrial or academic.

 The big differentiation is awareness. In industry, everyone coming in is told about intellectual property, secrecy, and most even sign documents acknowledging this. In academia, this whole area is generally ignored.

Addendum: I think incoming students, post-docs, and professors ought to have a required familiarization class on intellectual property law and what the requirements are. If a student or post-doc then has an independent idea, not part of their research or an extension of it, they will know how to create valid records (notebook enrty or a memorandum signed and dated by a witness, or whatever legal safeguards are needed. Conversely, the scope of ownership and control the professor has will also be defined. This would be just like it is done in industry.

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