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Last post Author Topic: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?  (Read 4469 times)

zridling

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Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« on: January 24, 2011, 02:51:48 PM »
University of Missouri student came up with an idea in class one day that spawned an iPhone application that has had more than 250,000 downloads since its release in March 2009. The app created by Brown and three other undergraduates won them a trip to Apple headquarters along with job offers from Google and other technology companies. But the invention also raised a perplexing question when university lawyers abruptly demanded a 25 percent ownership stake and two-thirds of any profits. Who owns the patents and copyrights when a student creates something of value on campus, without a professor's help?

be-careful2011b.jpg

Not happy with overcharging you insane amounts of money, colleges and universities are racing to revamp their policies regarding student ownership of IP (intellectual property). If that's the case, then Page, Brin, Gates, Dell, Zuckerberg, et al. owe lots of money to their... schools?! Bull hockey!!

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2011, 03:14:50 PM »
Yeah you have to be careful. Since they came up with the idea in class then I don't see it as much different to an employer having the right to patent inventions from their employees. Ideas are more regarded than the actual work it seems these days (patent madness?) so that the professor didn't help them develop the application seems of little consequence. Yes I know students pay the university, not like an employer pays their employees, but it'd still be hard to claim the idea didn't have any contributions from the professor/course work.

I've recently finished my thesis, one of the optional forms I could submit was a request to delay the publication of the universities library and digital copies by 18 months. The idea there being to give the researcher a chance to cash in on their discoveries.

My understanding is that (in Ireland), at postgraduate level, the university does not have any rights to your research, but if you are being funded (internally/externally) then the funding body could possibly contractually insist on rights. I'm pretty sure also that your supervisor, involved as they would be in your research, would have a right to the work. I imagine it'd be quite a legal challenge to dispute that.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2011, 03:19:09 PM by Eóin »

40hz

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2011, 04:02:03 PM »
Yeah you have to be careful. Since they came up with the idea in class then I don't see it as much different to an employer having the right to patent inventions from their employees. Ideas are more regarded than the actual work it seems these days (patent madness?) so that the professor didn't help them develop the application seems of little consequence. Yes I know students pay the university, not like an employer pays their employees, but it'd still be hard to claim the idea didn't have any contributions from the professor/course work.

In the US this would require whole new laws. Educational institutions have an entirely different tax status than businesses. So you can't extrapolate commercial legal protections as automatically applying to schools. Universities have insisted they are different and have demanded privileged treatment for decades. I doubt any court is going  to allow them to be legally treated like an employer when it suits them, and not when it doesn't.

And the simple fact that students are more clients than employees (because they pay to be there) is a BIG difference that won't be ignored by the legislatures or the legal establishment.

And under current contract rules, the schools can't declare a contract claim exists on a student's IP without going thru the usual offer/tender/acceptance procedure that makes a contract valid. And to insist on it happening after the fact is a real stretch that I doubt would fly in any courtroom.

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2011, 04:17:10 PM »
I do understand that, but I'm just musing on the possibility of the university saying it had an active part in developing the idea and so has a valid claim to it.

40hz

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2011, 04:36:03 PM »
Be interesting if they opened up that can of worms considering all the research, ideas, and designs professors have appropriated from their students over the years. When I was at college there were two management professors that were notorious for picking and profiting from their student's brains. I'm sure there are many more throughout the university system world-wide.

Sword cuts both ways.  :tellme:

Renegade

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2011, 04:49:41 PM »
+1 for 40hz

I do understand that, but I'm just musing on the possibility of the university saying it had an active part in developing the idea and so has a valid claim to it.

Huh? No way. Work for hire. Universities and professors are nothing more than employees of the students. They act in the same capacity that a consultant or trainer would. Anything they contribute towards an idea that the employers (students) create is a "work for hire" and they have no rights to it.

Cynicism
However, given the general state of mental retardation present in so many court rooms, I would fully expect them to rule against sanity.



Extreme cynicism
Academia used to be driven by principles. That has disappeared. They are now driven by dollars. They are nothing more than information whores tricking out their wares. This is only one more example where GREED is motivating them to f**k their students.


I really can't see how they can possibly think that they have ANY rights to ANYTHING produced by ANY student.

It's theft. Pure and simple. They are trying to steal from their students.

Using university facilities? That's what students are paying for. They're renting it.

For me, this is a black and white issue.
Slow Down Music - Where I commit thought crimes...

Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. - John Diefenbaker

wraith808

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2011, 05:09:33 PM »


Reminds me of Real Genius...

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2011, 05:22:09 PM »
Universities and professors are nothing more than employees of the students.

I disagree, when a student pays a university they are paying for the privilege to attend classes put on by a professor, and for the right to tested to see if they meet the specifications for qualification.

The notion that the professors are in some way beholden to the students is utterly wrong. The professors are employees of the university. They would be contractually obligated to cover the content of a syllabus but it is the students responsibility to ensure they learn that content.

Renegade

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2011, 05:28:14 PM »
...they are paying for the privilege...

In the same way that customers pay for the privilege to use products/services from businesses... Like Apple... Or Sony...

We're never going to agree on this one.
Slow Down Music - Where I commit thought crimes...

Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. - John Diefenbaker

wraith808

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2011, 05:31:05 PM »
...they are paying for the privilege...

In the same way that customers pay for the privilege to use products/services from businesses... Like Apple... Or Sony...

We're never going to agree on this one.

I think it's somewhere in the middle.  If not, and the professor had no obligation to the student other than to present the coursework in the best manner that he thought, then there would be no student evaluations at the end of the semester/quarter, etc., and that evaluation would have no effect on professors (well, non-tenured, anyway).  And if so, then those opinions would have more weight than they do... even with tenured professors.

justice

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2011, 05:34:01 PM »
I had to sign a contract with my uni that all the work i produced as part of the course exclusively belonged to the uni (or to that effect) for the duration of my course + a certain period thereafter, after which the ownership transferred back. Something like that anyway (so it can be shown at exhibitions etc) . I'm suprised it's not similar everywhere.

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #11 on: January 24, 2011, 05:35:48 PM »
Well in some ways only.

Take the example of a gym, you pay membership so get access to the facilities/machines. But the staff there don't become your employees, nor are they obliged to ensure you get fit. As part of the conditions of their employment, they may be required to assist the customers or give advice, but whether they meet those requirements is ultimately a matter between them and the management.

Renegade

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2011, 05:38:38 PM »
Well in some ways only.

Take the example of a gym, you pay membership so get access to the facilities/machines. But the staff there don't become your employees, nor are they obliged to ensure you get fit. As part of the conditions of their employment, they may be required to assist the customers or give advice, but whether they meet those requirements is ultimately a matter between them and the management.

But if you go on to win $100,000 in a competition, does that entitle the gym to a share in the prize money and glory?

Receiving a grant is another matter... But for the simple case, I think this is clear cut. You're paying for services. Period. Your work is your work and you own it.
Slow Down Music - Where I commit thought crimes...

Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. - John Diefenbaker

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #13 on: January 24, 2011, 05:42:38 PM »
If not, and the professor had no obligation to the student other than to present the coursework in the best manner that he thought, then there would be no student evaluations at the end of the semester/quarter, etc., and that evaluation would have no effect on professors (well, non-tenured, anyway).  And if so, then those opinions would have more weight than they do... even with tenured professors.

Well carrying out an evaluation would probably be considered part of the courses content. And of course the final exam to obtain the qualification is a matter between the student and the university, though the professor would likely be obligated to provide the exam, and correct them.

But should a professor be fired if all his class fail? Not at all. The college should probably investigate to ensure the professor did indeed teach the material, But if the students didn't learn it then tough on them.

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #14 on: January 24, 2011, 05:49:15 PM »
But if you go on to win $100,000 in a competition, does that entitle the gym to a share in the prize money and glory?

Receiving a grant is another matter... But for the simple case, I think this is clear cut. You're paying for services. Period. Your work is your work and you own it.

I'm inclined to agree, but the specifics could be blurrier. We are told just that the student came up with the idea in class. But how much of this idea was seeded by the professor? If the idea were solely the work of the students, how did the university ever discover it?

I see now looking at the article that the application was developed as part of a contest. Contests like this are highly dangerous, usually the fine print has you give up all rights to your entry.

wraith808

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2011, 06:04:14 PM »
If not, and the professor had no obligation to the student other than to present the coursework in the best manner that he thought, then there would be no student evaluations at the end of the semester/quarter, etc., and that evaluation would have no effect on professors (well, non-tenured, anyway).  And if so, then those opinions would have more weight than they do... even with tenured professors.

Well carrying out an evaluation would probably be considered part of the courses content. And of course the final exam to obtain the qualification is a matter between the student and the university, though the professor would likely be obligated to provide the exam, and correct them.

But should a professor be fired if all his class fail? Not at all. The college should probably investigate to ensure the professor did indeed teach the material, But if the students didn't learn it then tough on them.

Being a teacher is more than giving rote quotations of subject matter.  Teaching is a skill, and not all have it.  Should student failure be blamed on the teacher?  If the student was 'taught' then no.  But it is very much the teacher's case if the teacher does not teach.  My wife had a class recently, and the teacher taught her very little; in fact, she was late in everything, from class to grading.  My wife succeeded only because of what she learned outside of the class, spurred by her want of knowledge and her need to do well.  Was this success a product of the teacher's teaching techniques?  I think the obvious answer is no.  If she had failed using the teacher's teaching material, whose fault would it have been?  I would say the teacher's.

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #16 on: January 24, 2011, 06:13:19 PM »
Wraith, you are of course correct when talking about 1st and 2nd level education.

But 3rd level, university education was always held in a different light. And given the attitudes I see from students, any change to how university's operate, to bring them more in line with the earlier levels, would destroy the educational standards and make degrees worthless as a means for employers to judge merit.

Indeed that has already begun to happen. Many employers now only see postgraduate research qualifications as some which distinguishes an applicant.

mouser

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2011, 08:26:13 PM »
There are situations in a University where a graduate student is EMPLOYED by the university or is paid on a grant; in those cases it seems reasonable for some of the conditions of that employment to be that any intellectual property coming out of that work is (partially) owned by the university.

But I agree with those who have described the role of a normal student attending university in terms of the university being HIRED BY THE STUDENT to provide a service (education).  In such a case, when students create something as part of a class, they should have complete rights to that.

wraith808

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2011, 09:22:32 PM »
Wraith, you are of course correct when talking about 1st and 2nd level education.

But 3rd level, university education was always held in a different light. And given the attitudes I see from students, any change to how university's operate, to bring them more in line with the earlier levels, would destroy the educational standards and make degrees worthless as a means for employers to judge merit.

Indeed that has already begun to happen. Many employers now only see postgraduate research qualifications as some which distinguishes an applicant.

I don't know if I completely understand 1st/2nd/3rd... do you mean undergraduate, master's, doctorate level?  Or is it something else (for the international education level ignorant :))

Eóin

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2011, 07:19:24 AM »
Sorry, 1st and 2nd level would bring you up to the end of Americian highschool. They are the levels everyone usually has an automatic right to. 3rd level is University education.

By 1st and 2nd, I guess I should have said primary and secondary education.

On the subject if IP, I do actually agree that students should retain ownership of ideas they come up with themselves while on campus. But I firmly believe something is fishy in this case. If it were just a random idea students came up with in class I fail to see how the university even got wind of it. I mean did the professor run telling tales to the Uni administrators? This story, as reported, sounds too suspicious to me.

Nonetheless I take issue with the idea of professors being employees of the students. This is not the case, staff in a University are only answerable only to the administration.

Renegade

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #20 on: January 25, 2011, 08:09:41 AM »
Nonetheless I take issue with the idea of professors being employees of the students. This is not the case, staff in a University are only answerable only to the administration.

I think that's more metaphorical and not literal. They're no more "employees of students" than a waiter is an employee of a customer in a restaurant. Figuratively though, the educator is still supposed to be working for the benefit of the student, and the "employer / employee" analogy works.

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40hz

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #21 on: January 25, 2011, 09:09:57 AM »
It's important to note the school in question withdrew it's claim.

I suspect an employee of the university, misunderstanding the legal concept of "work for hire" - and in a burst of excessive zeal - floated a trial balloon.

With the predictable results.  

I think by now it's all over except for the inevitable hand-wringing and grandstanding after the fact. :)

40hz

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #22 on: January 25, 2011, 09:37:54 AM »
Nonetheless I take issue with the idea of professors being employees of the students. This is not the case, staff in a University are only answerable only to the administration.

Exactly right.  :Thmbsup:

In the US, school staff would not be considered employees of the students because the students do not direct the staff's actions - a key component in the criteria that determines the existence of an employer/employee relationship.

University professors are employees of the university.

Students are clients of the university. As such, they have legal rights under consumer protection  and relevant laws which regulate commerce. But they do not exercise the rights of employers.

Gotta be careful with metaphor and analogy when dealing with legal issues. The law may deal with legal fictions. But it doesn't indulge in metaphor or analogy. Weird as it may seem to most people, legal theory is a very precise and specific thing based on existing case law rulings and legal concepts which themselves tend to have precise and specific definitions.  
 
And it's also important to remember that courts are "courts of law." They're not debating societies or forums for public opinion.

In the US, that's the function of the legislature - not the judiciary.

 :)
« Last Edit: January 25, 2011, 09:50:03 AM by 40hz »

wraith808

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2011, 12:29:22 PM »
Sorry, 1st and 2nd level would bring you up to the end of Americian highschool. They are the levels everyone usually has an automatic right to. 3rd level is University education.

By 1st and 2nd, I guess I should have said primary and secondary education.

On the subject if IP, I do actually agree that students should retain ownership of ideas they come up with themselves while on campus. But I firmly believe something is fishy in this case. If it were just a random idea students came up with in class I fail to see how the university even got wind of it. I mean did the professor run telling tales to the Uni administrators? This story, as reported, sounds too suspicious to me.

Ah... that being the case, then I still sort of disagree.  I think that undergraduate students *are* more on the level of lower levels of education.  A bit different, but not wholly.  Especially given the nature of private schools in lower education.  post-graduate work is a different issue.  Undergraduate students do have more investment in making sure that the quality of their education is up to standards, but professors still retain some measure of responsibility in this process.  For post-graduate work, I'd say this level of accountability is lessened, if not removed entirely.  But at that point, for most students it is more of a partnership in education than a true student-teacher relationship, IMO; though elements of that still remain, they are definitely lessened.

zridling

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Re: Do universities have a claim on students' IP?
« Reply #24 on: January 25, 2011, 03:52:48 PM »
Since a state university -- as in this case -- is funded by the state's taxpayers, which the student is, shouldn't the school make public all its IT? Ah, that slippery slope.